Video: 8 Mesmerizing Minutes in Shanghai Set to Music From Balmorhea

When longtime Shanghai-based filmmaker Luis Tapia learned that Austin, Texas-based instrumental group Balmorhea was headed to town, he immediately knew he wanted to film their performance. And he had an idea to make it different from other concert films he had made in the past: take the cameras outside of the venue and onto the streets of Shanghai. The result is entrancing (a "time capsule of that night," to steal Tapia's words) and we can attest that the black-and-white, slow motion footage is enough to make any former Shanghai resident more than a little bit homesick.

Asia Blog caught up with Tapia to find out more about how "BALMORHEA in/and SHANGHAI" came to be.

How did your collaboration with Balmorhea come about?

I have been a fan of their music for a few years now, and when I learned they were coming to Shanghai for a show I almost fell out of my chair — we don’t usually get acts like Balmorhea out here. I immediately reached out and asked if they’d be interested in doing a video together. I pitched them my idea and they were in!

Most concert videos focus on ... the concert. What prompted the idea to take cameras outside the venue?

I’ve done a lot of live music videos, and really love capturing the energy of a performance, but I was interested in doing something a little different this time. Videos of bands on tour have a certain uniformity to them. A video of a show in Los Angeles is nearly indistinguishable from a show in Mexico City or Paris or Shanghai. And that’s by design — the audience is there to enjoy that performance that has come to them. But I wanted to make something that would really be infused with Shanghai. And I wanted it to be a sort of time capsule of that night. So I settled on the idea to film the area surrounding the venue simultaneous to the show. We rolled as soon as the band started playing, and cut when they finished.

Tell us about the neighborhood we are seeing. Where is it? What is it known for?

It’s right in the middle of the French Concession area of central Shanghai. We started just outside the venue, MAO Livehouse, and traveled in a meandering loop through the surrounding neighborhood. It’s known for its European-style architecture and the tree-lined streets filled with little cafes, noodle shops, and boutiques. A lot of the typically Shanghainese lane houses are still standing and make for really lively neighborhoods. And of course there are plenty of skyscrapers looming, and the overhead highways slice through it.

Describe the filming process on the streets. Were there any challenges or obstacles?

It started with some scouting. I live in the area and know it well, but I wanted to map out a path, so I cycled around and timed it out. Then I came back with the cinematographers, Jeff Weil and Ben Ge Pengjiu, to do a dry run with the camera. We hired a sort of motorized tricycle with a flat bed in the back — they’re typically hired for deliveries or to help transport appliances — and we filmed along that path, jumping off frequently. The band gave us the set list and they were listening to the music as they filmed.

We had the camera on a stabilizing rig, and the biggest challenge was the choreography of trading the rig between Jeff and Ben while jumping off and on the moving tricycle. We had an assistant with them to watch their backs and keep them safe.

What stood out to you about the results? Did anything surprise you?

During the editing, I became really excited by the implications of the simultaneity of the performance and the city outside. We captured so many little moments on that particular night at that particular time, and it made me reflect on/imagine the millions of moments happening simultaneous to those that we witnessed. That is the spirit of a city — the collective spirit of its many inhabitants. And for that hour on that night, Balmorhea’s music was a part of Shanghai’s collective spirit. This little film is a meditation on that.

About the Author

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Dan Washburn is Asia Society's Chief Content Officer. The Financial Times named his book, The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream, one of the best of 2014.