I was honored to be invited by Producer/Cinematographer Elam Stoltzfus to compose the soundtrack music and record the nature sounds for the Big Cypress Swamp: The Western Everglades documentary. It was my privilege to spent lots of time in the Big Cypress Swamp Basin from late 2007 through October 2008. My objectives were to capture the sounds of the seasons in this vast wilderness and to get a sense of the place in order to gain inspiration for the musical compositions that would be a part of telling the story of this rare and magical region.
Each trip to the Big Cypress was a new adventure for me in that I was able to explore a part of Florida that I had never seen. Traveling with Elam Stoltzfus I was able to enjoy so many memorable experiences such as airboat rides with John Adams down to the "stair steps", an August helicopter flight with Joe Fragione across the vast expanses of dwarf cypress trees and green cypress domes and being "stranded" with Elam by low tides on Round Key in the Ten Thousand Islands for two days and nights in January.
Then there were the swamp walks at Clyde Butcher's Big Cypress Gallery and exploring the Turner River by canoe with Education Outreach Specialist Lisa Andrews, Elam Stoltzfus and script writer, Jane Atkins. Park Biologist Mike Owen and Photographer Rick Cruz with their contagious enthusiasm revealed to us and taught us about the incredible biodiversity of the Fakahatchee Strand State Preserve. They somehow kept us from getting lost in this wild sub-tropical paradise.
Through Elam, I met the Independent Miccosukee artist, Leroy Henehayo Osceola, his wife Cassandra and their remarkable family. They graciously invited us to their home and art gallery and Leroy agreed to be interviewed and filmed for the documentary. Afterwards we were honored by their dinner invitation and enjoyed watching them prepare foods in their traditional way over an open fire in their cooking chickee. Spending this time with the Osceola family truly helped me feel a deeper understanding of this land and its cultural history. The composition, "The Ones Who Stayed Behind" is dedicated to the Osceolas and their ancestors who endured great hardship to survive in this wilderness.
Each time I returned to my studio in North Florida I felt more connected to the Big Cypress Swamp.
The majority of the music soundtrack was recorded in my studio but on two occasions I set up equipment and recorded on location. The song "From the Heart of the Fakahatchee" is built around the sound of a hollow cypress log we found half buried in the mud deep in the Fakahatchee swamp. The log was hollow with a few natural slits in it from its many years lying in the swamp. Rick Cruz slapped the log a couple of times and suggested that I try playing it as a drum. I recorded several minutes in 4 4 time and when I got back to the studio added river cane flute, more drums, synthesizer, tenor sax and the sound of water dripping from the forest canopy of the Fakahatchee after an early morning rain.
The other on-location recording was at sunset out on the wet prairie several miles north of the Tamiami Trail in late January. Red-winged blackbirds were calling back and forth in the late pre-dusk light as I played and recorded the bamboo flute. The next morning at Clyde and Niki Butcher's swamp house where we stayed during our work in the Big Cypress I recorded the synthesizer parts. This song became "Prairie Song".
There was a moment of enlightenment for me that happened while I was in the Gator Hook Strand recording distant thunder and wind. It helped me to understand what this land means to me and how it affects me. I had been asking myself, "What is the mystique of the Big Cypress Swamp? Is it the lush ferns and bromeliad laden trees of the swamps? Is it the seemingly boundless stands of dwarf cypress trees dotted with cypress domes? Is it the vast openness of the wet prairies and the cloud formations that materialize from nothingness and morph into ever changing mountain ranges in the sky?"
As I recorded the wind it dawned on me that it is all that and more. It is the constant gentle wind bringing almost indecipherable messages from far away lands of unknown cultures. If one slows the mind and listens, this gentle wind will speak with some vaguely familiar voice that is perceived by something beyond the sense of hearing.
While recording nature sounds in the Big Cypress Swamp I found time to shoot lots of behind the scenes video footage of the area. Below is a montage of my favorite nature scenes accompanied by my original music.