After collaborating with our Creative Music Production & Sound Engineering and Film Production students on her debut album and music video, singer-songwriter Melody Chebrellan writes a guest blog about her experience.
João Fonseca, Ben Pfister and I at our first session
João, Diogo Almeida and Guilherme Fill at the soundboard
Miguel Couto and João
Roy Salmon Weinheber on the drums
“João and I called in favors and trades to assemble a formidable lineup of Berlin-based musicians, many of whom were Catalyst students"
After a number of years writing and recording music solo, I was ready to start collaborating. I combed through Facebook groups for musicians and found a post about the Creative Audio Production & Sound Engineering students at Catalyst, who are always looking for artists to record. I uploaded my first EP Often Unrequited thinking nothing would probably come of it, but why not? I was shocked and delighted to receive an email a few weeks later from a student named João Marcos Libório Fonseca who was interested in recording a song!
João and I met in a little coffee shop and chatted about music. I also played him a few demos I had on my phone. We seemed to hit it off and he scheduled some studio time for us. For the next two and a half years, João and I called in favors and trades to assemble a formidable lineup of Berlin-based musicians, many of whom were Catalyst students. They would transform my raw demos into a final album entitled Comets & other drifting bodies.
Comets & other drifting bodies by Melody Chebrellan
These musicians—hailing from Bolivia, Israel, Germany, the Philippines, Portugal, Brazil, and Hong Kong— each incorporated into the music the sonic textures of their homelands. They helped me to create an expansive musical palette that draws on rhythms and genres from all over the world. Comets & other drifting bodies is an eclectic exploration of the spaces between us and the vastness within us, with hints of the little bits of magic that seek to bridge and fill those unnamable distances.
Filming the music video
“There were about ten million problems to be addressed, but whenever I find myself ‘problem-solving,’ I like to consider the possibility that I am ‘opportunity-realizing'”
Once the album was recorded, I started putting out feelers for anyone who might be interested in making a music video for the first single, ‘Upside Down.’ A Film Production student, Aaron MacCarley, reached out to me. Together we dreamt up a script for a whimsical stop-motion adventure. We spent several months storyboarding to meticulously plan each scene, movement, and transition. There were about ten million problems to be addressed, but whenever I find myself “problem-solving,” I like to consider the possibility that I am “opportunity-realizing.” Here are a couple of examples.
How do we elevate and mount the camera high enough to accommodate a king-size bedsheet in the frame?
Aaron found a long piece of wood in an alleyway and cut a lens hole in it. We suspended the plank across two fluorescent light fixtures and placed the camera, lens-down, into the hole in the plank. DIY to the max. Lastly, we used a USB cable to connect (or tether) the camera to the computer so we could see the images as they were being captured.
Aaron and I at the dBs Berlin [now Catalyst] film premiere
Basically zero budget.
This was an opportunity to get scrappy. Aaron and I had lots of fun traipsing around Berlin to discount shops and art supply stores. Texture was super important to us, and we planned to use felt for most of the objects. Unfortunately, felt is expensive. Improvise! We used tissue paper for the tree and the waves because it is super cheap, bountiful, vibrant, and has a great texture when crumpled.
The shoot itself was it’s own four-day adventure. Catalyst Film students Charlotte Leser, Ahmed Ahmed, Gloria Strawhan, and Hannah Thome came and assisted with moving all the little pieces around. The shoot was physically exhausting, laying on the hard floor for hours, holding poses and tensing various muscles for each shot. I spent so many hours flexing my toes so it would look like I was standing that I developed new shin muscles.
Despite all the prep we did beforehand, we still improvised the story and scenes as we went. The continual brainstorming, collaborating, and group problem solving made the time fly by and left all of us feeling proud and super satisfied with the final product.