I spent most of my summer working on a film that I eventually titled, In a Landscape, Dreaming featuring the world-renowned pianist Pedja Muzijevic playing the music of John Cage throughout the hills and valleys of Montana. Not only was it an incredible filmmaking journey, but it was also one of the most meaningful teaching experiences I've ever had in my life.
I usually try to document the process of filmmaking on this website, but the whole thing happened so quickly that I'm only able to catch up in retrospect. The basics are: thanks to a grant from the Sidney E. Frank Foundation, I was able to take three of my students to the Tippet Rise Art Center in Fishtail, Montana to make an experimental landscape film about a John Cage piece called, appropriately enough, In a Landscape. This particular piece seems to me to be one of Cage's most accessible works, almost explicitly referencing Debussy's Reverie (recently infecting brains of fans of HBO's Westworld). Cage's piece, too, seems to be about dreams. As I listened to the track in the months leading up to the shoot, I found myself drifting into daydreams about the sky and the plains. And so the "story" of my film took shape - a pianist gets lost in his work and wanders through the landscape that bore him, inspired him, or maybe was even created by him. I was thinking equally of Owen Land's New Improved Institutional Quality: In the Environment of Liquids and Nasals a Parasitic Vowel Sometimes Develops as I was Peter Hutton's Skagafjordur. In both films I find themes that connect to my fascination of Zen Buddhism - namely regarding the insignificance and ephemerality of humanity in either the sublime nature that preceded us, or the hysterically sublime structures that we have created. And with these influences in mind, I set off with my students, a camera, and a tripod (no fancy rigs, no automation, no motion stabilizers) to make a film about a man whose daydream leads him to float like the speck of dust he is through the infinite landscape.