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Manu Delago’s Way to the Top

Updated on 28.12.2020 in Arts & Culture

The musicians involved in the „Parasol Peak“ project. Photo Credit: Klemens Weisleitner
The musicians involved in the „Parasol Peak“ project. Photo Credit: Klemens Weisleitner

Innsbruck-born composer and pioneer of the Hang, Manu Delago comes in with his new project: Following the journey of seven musicians on a dramatic mountain climb, “Parasol Peak” is a unique and awe-inspiring movie and accompanying album.

Growing up in the Tirolean Alps, Manu Delago has always had a passion for music as well as the mountains. Exploring new territory and trying out new things is very much his thing. In his latest project, he was inspired to perform both within and as part of nature, using only totally acoustic instruments. He utilised the harsh surroundings by incorporating lots of percussion sounds like trees, water, little rocks as well as the gear that they were carrying. The wind can be heard, brushes are tapped against trees and splashes are created in streams – and Manu Delago plays the Hang (also called the handpan – a unique hand drum which produces both percussive and melodic sounds). At only 34, the Tirol-born percussionist, composer and producer has a CV most musicians would struggle to achieve in a lifetime. And his new album “Parasol Peak” is a completely rare, once-in-a-lifetime piece of work – both stunning visually and remarkable musically. With hypnotic beats and soothing melodies floating over sweeping cliff-top mountain views, Manu Delago leads seven musicians into the Alps, pausing at various altitudes to record these tracks, building his way to the top. The music is completely organic, recorded live in some of the harshest conditions musicians will ever encounter.  And it’s all been captured on film.

This was probably as extreme as we could manage.”

The Climb

Determined to realise his ambition, Manu Delago coaxed an ensemble of seven musicians and a film crew high up into the Tirolean Alps in September 2017. Shot over about a week, it was unusually cold for that time of year and just days before the project began, it had snowed down. The unlikely idea of recording a whole album in the Alps might sound like a great idea until you factor in the physical, technological and strategic challenges involved. Apart from finding physically fit musicians and filmmakers, a major obstacle, of course, was getting all of Delago and his band’s equipment up the side of a mountain. The crew had to find locations to lay cables, build up a set and install microphones. The cold made the instruments go out of tune with each climb to the next level and was also hard on everyone’s fingers, so they tried their best to shoot as quickly as possible. The seven musicians, all of whom carried their own instruments (including a cello) throughout the climb, perform a collection of brand new compositions in different locations, at varying altitudes before recording their final session at the summit.

Manu Delago and the instrument that made him famous. Photo Credit: Klemens WeisleitnerManu Delago and the instrument that made him famous. Photo Credit: Klemens Weisleitner

The musicians carried their own portable instruments throughout the climb. Photo Credit: Klemens WeisleitnerThe musicians carried their own portable instruments throughout the climb. Photo Credit: Klemens Weisleitner

The Hang is a melodic percussion instrument that was invented in Switzerland at the turn of the millennium. Similar to an upside-down kettle drum, the Hang has a versatile sound range that’s somewhere between a harp, a steel drum and a marimba and allows the Tirolean percussionist to coax out rhythmical melodies of intense beauty. Such as the soothing melodies captured in the spectacular surrounds of the Tirolean Alps for his latest project “Parasol Peak.”

Nature in the Leading Role

As well as their starring role in the film, the Alps can also be heard on the recordings, whether through the sound of the elements whipping themselves around the performers or the musicians themselves playing percussion on rocks, trees and water. While Delago and friends brave the cold and snow, helmets and ice hammers become instruments. From the scuttling opener “Parasol Woods” via the frostily isolated “Listening Glacier”, Parasol Peak captures every stage of a remarkable musical achievement. The conditions seep into the music, affecting not only the timbres (instruments sounding different at higher altitudes) but the speed and deliberation of play. If the amount of instrumentation grows thinner as the climbers ascend, it’s a reflection of the sobering conditions. “The climbing was probably as extreme as we could manage with the instruments on our backs,” recalls Manu Delago. “Some realized only too late what they have gotten themselves into. There were moments when they wanted to give up.”

Reaching the Top

But what an explosion of joy when the peak is finally reached! The highlight of the album in the true sense of the word is the triumphant title track “Parasol Peak”, recorded at the summit of Rinnenspitze Peak at 3,003 meters above sea level. “I really wanted to capture the emotional element of climbing a mountain and being surrounded by nature, that sense of achievement when you reach the top,” resumes the Hang drum master. He hopes to be remembered as someone who contributed some new ideas and sounds to the world.

From Inntal Valley to the World

Tirol-native Manu Delago loves to tackle steep ascents in both, mountaineering and music. As a two-year-old, Manu Delago began what would become a very musically inclined life as he sat behind his first drumkit. Four years later he took accordion lessons and, at the age of ten, he started playing the piano. As a mainly Rock influenced teenager, Manu played the drums for various bands. When he discovered the Hang in 2003, he simultaneously discovered his passion for writing music. After graduating in classical percussion in his hometown Innsbruck, he moved to London in his early 20s. His Hang solo piece was the most popular Hang video on the internet (with more than 5 million views, among them Björk). In 2011, he recorded for Björk’s “Biophilia” album and has since been her touring drummer, playing three world tours with the Icelandic singer. Manu Delago has also appeared as soloist with the London Symphony Orchestra and collaborated with artists such as Ólafur Arnalds and Anoushka Shankar to name but a few.

Benjamin Stolz lives and loves the contrasts of Tirol. Despite being born and raised in this mountainous region, he is afraid of heights. He is a paper-loving online blogger, a city dweller from the countryside and a firm believer that there is more to discover in Tirol than you might think.

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