It was a pleasure to sing for the wonderful film. As many Indian soldiers participated in the war it was decided that my part would be live recorded at the magnificent Fort of Gwalior. Coincidentally I got an invitation to an exhibition of WWI. The heartrending pictures of death and destruction and of the warriors from all over the world including India gave me the food for thought of what I should sing; a composition of bereavement to capture the grief of millions of nameless Indians who lost their loved ones to the war. After months of discussions and deliberations, the lyrics were penned. Then came the exciting journey with the team to Gwalior; we went to the location at daybreak and the experience was an unforgettable one. The team was brilliant. The jelling of the voices was brilliant. It was indeed a great learning experience to work with the team.
Every time that John Psathas asks you to work with him in a project, you firstly have to say yes and secondly ask what is this about. That is because you are sure from the very beginning that you are going to deal with something of a great artistic depth. But no matter how well you know him and his music, I think that none of us could really imagine how powerful would be the experience of the No Man’s Land project. John created a space with so many levels that each of the participants, no matter if he/she was in the audience, a live performer, sound engineer, light designer, or any other member of the technical crew could find their own specific, obvious and very important role in it. He actually created an imitation of real life. A micro society. No Man’ s Land is a state of being. A standing. A protest. It is that space in time that all the opposite elements eventually meet. There is not only good or only evil, only peace or only violence. We are all carrying all opposites inside us. At the end, you are what you decide to evolve and act accordingly. So, we had to deal with so many different levels of action at the same moment. Audience, live band, murals, pre-recorded musicians, action on the picture coming together with a really powerful story. Everything with its own specific symbolism and all together creating a gentle mix. All elements sliding one on to the other without losing each one’s character. Everything is so different but all of them coexisting in great harmony. Everything at the right portion. With respect. The music, the connecting chain and bridge of and to everything. John Psathas created a perfect utopia in the middle of one of the most unfortunate times in human history - WW1 - by pointing out the obviousness of elements like humanity, solidarity and tolerance. Things that history books tend to forget mentioning or they mention poorly. Every performance was a concentrated portion of reality. It was always taking more than a while for me to “come back” after the end of each. Every time I kept realizing something new. Going deeper and deeper. I just wish that many more audiences can have the chance to be part of this experience in the future because it is absolutely one of these projects that make you say “Today I became a better person”. And if not that, what art is made for? Thank you, John Psathas for bringing us in.
In 2015 we were on tour in Denmark when John sent us an email to propose to us to participate in his film No man’s land. After reading the email we had a small Skype and agreed to cut our tour for 2 days and take a flight back to Paris to record and film in the same day. The idea of the film has touched us as we are Syrian-Palestinian who lived the war. To see all these musicians together from different nationalities on the battlefields of war asking also for peace is to say that Land No Man’s Land is a powerful moment of hope that the world will live in peace one day.
Surely I can speak for many of the musicians involved in the “No Man’s Land” project in saying that this was a powerful musical and personal experience that is not easily put into words. I’m quite sure the number of goose bumps experienced by players and audience alike far outnumbered the thousands of notes and breaths we recorded. I believe we all shared the feeling of weaving together something vital, something needing to be said and heard in times when the dangers of repeating the violent lessons of old are again o so present. I believe another common denominator of all us sound carriers was the belief that this story needs to be told and sung right now. On the personal musical level, the chance to meet with some of Turkey’s greatest players and record together a first encounter with the wonderful production team was an experience I will long treasure. Beyond that, to observe how John Psathas carefully wove together all these vastly different elements into a meaningful whole showed me that he is so more than a prodigious composer and story teller, but a man deeply invested in the preservation of our planet and everything beautiful and true we have striven for as humans, and that is something I deeply admire.
Park Road was approached by John and the other filmmakers to join this project early on in it’s development. They had travelled to some of the locations around the world and played us down some of the footage while explaining the concept and their vision. We immediately felt it was a fitting project to commemorate the significance of WWI and did not hesitate to commit our support. The project had a lot of challenges, especially technical and we could see it would need a high level of experience and skill that Park Road could bring to the picture, sound and delivery workflow, ensuring the audience would experience exactly what the filmmakers had in their minds. The content, meaning, and coming together of all those amazing singers and musicians from countries that suffered so much during WWI was compelling and heartfelt. Park Road had not worked on anything quite like this before. The combination of live stage, film projection, synchronisation of so many musicians in all those locations, and the final delivery of a complete cinema film with no live elements was exciting and unique. We had no doubt that John’s music would be incredible and to work with them realising this amazing project and to see it in all it’s final glory, was such a fulfilling and meaningful experience for all the team at Park Road. We are very proud and humbled to have been part of this wonderful project.
My name is Mathew Knight, I worked as Cinematography on the project No Mans Land. Working on this project was a personally transformative experience. Growing up in New Zealand I knew very little about New Zealand’s involvement in the First World War and commemorations were largely focussed on the battle at Gallipolli where New Zealand and Australian soldiers were defeated by Turkish forces. My understanding of the war revolved completely around this event and growing up I viewed these commemorations as meaningless history that had no significance to my life and to modern day society. The experience of travelling to Europe and touring the actual battlefield sites with knowledgeable historians was the beginning of a huge transformative journey that myself and all the key creatives involved in No Mans Land went on. The first stage of this experience gave me a far more accurate overview of where the battles of the war were fought, and which countries participated in these conflicts. From this knowledge we began to understand the role New Zealanders and people of many other countries played in this war. One of the huge strengths of the No Mans Land project was that the entire approach was not that of concentrating exclusively on the New Zealand experience in this war. Which inevitably distorts the overall picture of what happened in the war. Without overall context the details of a battle such as Gallipoli begin to distort our understanding of this terrible event. Our focus in making No Mans Land was taking a very international perspective. There was no ‘them” and ‘us’, “our brave soldiers’ or ‘the enemy’. The project examines the terrible catastrophe that all the nations involved in the war experienced. I believe that when we approach commemoration in this way it is the only perspective that respects all participants and can highlight the awful tragedies that both the ‘victorious’ nations and the ‘defeated’ nations suffered. It takes us away from the easy characterisation that everything ‘our’ soldiers did was heroic and honourable, and every ‘the enemy’ did was despicable & in-human and deserving of defeat. The other key component of No Mans Land was going beyond words. This project was always going to be about telling this story through emotion and music and film. One thing that becomes obvious when we talk about the First World War is the complexity and scale of the war. It is extremely hard to understand all the various parts of that war and takes a major commitment to study and understand the war in its entirety. The result of this complexity is many people do not engage with understanding the first world war properly. This happens with governments running commemorations and with the audience who participate’s in commemorations. How we describe this war so often descends into slogans, generalisations, stereotypes and distorts of truth by omission. As soon as you begin to talk about the war, you can either descend into the endless minutiae of troop movements and retrospective battle analysis, or gross generalisations about hugely chaotic and complex events. Both of which can very quickly lose sight of the chaos, and the mindless terror and awful loss of humanity suffered by so many of the unfortunate people caught in the crucible of that war and facing horror and tragedy on a scale that is unprecedented in human history and almost impossible to convey in any meaningful manner to a modern audience. No Mans Land attempts to move beyond bias and subjectivity of words to take the audience on a powerful emotional journey that brings all sides of this terrible tragedy together to make those feelings and emotions around the war real and lasting for a modern audience. Over and over people have described the powerful emotions that the experience of the No Mans Land live show has left them with. Feelings that stay with people long after the show is over, and begins a process of deep deliberation and examination of their own feeling towards war and the moral and ethical issues when we remember war. The music and the images combined take the audience on a journey from the =gentle beginnings of the war, from the fresh faced troops heading away from their homelands for an adventure in foreign lands, full of smiles and laughs. It brings the audience with those hopeful soldiers and inexorably draws them furthest and further into the dark horrors of the war. We journey with young Indians, Chinese, Japanese, African, Mororrocan, British, Australian, New Zealand and so many other nations soldiers as they are drawn towards the hell that awaits them on the Western front, the Eastern front and so many others lands where the might of nations meet to back up the threats and insults of politicians and diplomates and exact the retributions and revenge on the fragile flesh of sons, husbands, fathers and so many other loved families member from all sides of this war through fire and metal and death in so many obscene forms. Joining the soldiers from one hundred years ago on their journey, No Mans Land sends modern day musicians from the very nations that were fighting one hundred years before on a sacred pilgrimage. Starting from all corners of the globe the musicians travel to these places of legend. Holy and spiritual sites like Verdun, Passchendaele, Ypres, Polygon Wood, the Somme. Places that once visited and understood and felt, leave an indelible mark on everyone who experiences it. I will never forgot the experiences I had filming this project, from being in the largest First World War graveyard at Verdun at 3am spending all night surrounded by hundreds of thousands of gravesites as we filming time-lapse of the stars turning over these eerie graves, or the culmination of our journey across Europe as the numbers of battlefield dead rose to incomprehensible levels, and I waded through two feet of mud and rain water in a pitch black tunnel underground in a battlefield in Ypres Salient. Trying to feel my way through the blackness to find my way back to the trenches above ground and control the feelings of fear and panic that crawled up my neck as I splashed through the mud in the darkness, bent doubled over to get through the small and claustrophobic tunnel, dug by hand by soldiers one hundred years before. That day was dark and rainy and black in Belgium and it left a strong and dark psychological feeling on all of us who experienced it. And that is the very feeling that we bring the audience to during the No Man’s Land performance. It’s a feeling that is hard to put into words but it’s a meditative state that the audience feels long after they have experience that No Man’s Land live show. After my work on this project I realize how vitally important it is for all of us in this day and age to truly understand what happening 100 years ago. To honestly address what happened, why it happened and to realize that the people that experienced the horrors of that war are no different to us. They couldn’t believe what happened, but were powerless to stop it. It is entirely possible that many of us today may face a catastrophe of the same of greater proportions in our lifetime and whatever we can learn from the past to help us prevent such a terrible tragedy from occurring again is incredible important. We all have a solemn responsibility to make sure people do not forget the First World War, and when we commemorate and remember we must remember it honestly and accurately. Not with the flag waving nationalism that is only interested in heroes and victories and pride and faceless enemies, but with the knowledge that all humanity has a vital responsibility to do everything in our power to stop war in all its forms and we must remember, or we are doomed to repeat this tragic cycle.
With No No Man’s Land John invited me to sing in my mother tongue, Armenian, to some incredibly arranged world music and be a part of this huge cast of musicians and singers in this epic production. The project is a very moving diatribe of artists being lost in the epic wisdom of peace after world wars that have ravaged their peoples and cultures. John had me sing on the dunes of Muriwai looking out at the ocean connecting to my ancestors and time immemorial. Seeing the show come together at the Auckland Town Hall as part of the Auckland Festival in 2016 brought tears to my eyes, as it’s truly rare to see this type of meaningful art.
Kia ora Koutou, my name is Iraia Whakamoe. I am one third of The Nudge, the drummer in the band. When John approached us about being a part of NML, it was incredibly humbling to be seen as musically being able to bring something to his vision, and it was equally exciting. WWII was a natural topic in my whanau. My father’s father, my Koro had been in The 28th Māori Battalion. It was something we never spoke of with Koro, but always knew as his grandchildren, and the cost it paid on my father’s life. But it was news to me, that indeed, I had family, actual cousins that, died in The Great War. We had never heard any of their stories. This blood line came from my mother’s side, my Pākeha side, and directly from the McLeod Whanau of Scotland. John and Jasmine encouraged me and the group to investigate the likelihood of any relations being there, in France, Belgium, Germany. Anywhere, in the battlefields. Given the task of finding out my history I was confronted with indeed the sad news, I had family die in both the Somme and Passchendaele. This instant connection was the start of a startling journey of learning just how sad WWI was, and indeed how NML would slowly unfold these stories upon stories of battles, missions, and the inevitable death of literally millions of people. The day came and we reached Verdun for filming. This old sleepy town had an instant heaviness of what had happened here. Old architecture and buildings littered with old bullet holes, monuments of the battle of Verdun, and rolling fields of craters that had been made from explosions. This was unforgettable and overwhelming considering the reason I was there. I knew that this was an extreme privilege. We arrived early in morning at Fort Douaumont and set up our instruments. There the film crew filmed us individually playing our instruments. This was nothing short of surreal. To consider nearly three quarters of a million men were to die in the battle of Verdun, it’s hard to consider what these men went through. What I found truly unbelievable was that every French family to this day, has direct relations involved in this immense war. Many many families, men, woman and children, to have died for what? It would seem nothing, as it dawned on me, that while John had an immense vision, that could encompass all these nations, could they imagine in 100 years’ time, they could all be sitting at one table, breaking the same bread and drinking the same wine. Could we all be singing the same song? I would say it’s almost without a doubt, something they could not have imagined. But the sadness that was made clear amongst it all, was just how pointless war is, and that now 100 years on, we the world are still at war. Something incredible in the common voice of music, is that, without even knowing we can break down walls, social and religious boundaries, and expectations, we can break down and strip away negative feelings and emotions, and we can for a brief moment embrace and enjoy the uniqueness of what makes us human. Our spiritual greater meaning and or understanding, or simply a moment of togetherness for nothing more than enjoyment. The feeling of happiness. I feel for all those that were involved in NML, it was a privilege to feel the pain of the history and the learning of the history. It was paramount for us to be able understand the depth of this masterpiece of John’s. His unique ability to have the courage, compassion, empathy and sheer determination to tackle such a heavy heavy piece of the world as we know it puzzle and turn it into a celebration of life. This was the first time in my musical journey that I truly understood, my gift of music, and the amazing places it has taken me, does not come without its responsibilities. Be thankful for the chance to share music, and do something. You cannot measure the results by ticket sales, or critics. As it takes an incredibly selfless man, which John is to take the nearly 3 years of his life devoted to sharing this story. So that we don’t have to feel the pain of flesh, but rather the emotion that only music can yield. No Mans Land was a life changing journey for me, one that I know, has immense value for all of those lucky enough to experience it.
With its premiere in the New Zealand Festival, and Auckland Festival of the Arts, and presumption at WOMAD New Zealand, provided a strong base from which Tour-Makers extended the audience for the work into regional New Zealand. No Man’s Land was highly original, professionally presented and very well received by audiences. The combination of visuals and live performance created a unique and extraordinary human journey that reflects on ravages World War I, expressed though the music, the landscape, and the cultures and individual voices of the musicians. No Man’s Land ultimately creates a sense of hope for the future, bringing people together, in an important sentiment in our current precarious world. I am very pleased to recommend No Man’s Land to any potential presenters.
No Man’s Land was a modern day testament of hope for humanity. This musical odyssey explored the themes of conflict and crisis through the voices of some of the world’s most incredible musical voices. John Psathas’ composition created a frame for the wide range of voices and styles that represented the many peoples who had been touched by the war. In bringing them together, the work became a reflection on our common need to reach for the divine, for hope and for each other. Technically the work was a stunning achievement, knitting together film, recorded music and live performance. The balance between these three elements created a work that had epic ideas within it but still managed to maintain a very direct connection between the performers and the audiences.
No Man’s Land was an incredible piece of work to have at our venue and in our city. Our vision at Baycourt is to create a programme of diverse events for our community and this production certainly fit the bill. The talent and level of experience from all involved was outstanding and every person I spoke to who saw the production was speechless as well as incredibly moved. I would highly recommend this production as a ‘must see’ for everyone.
When I was initially asked to be involved in the No Man’s Land project i was both excited and scared. Excited to be involved in such a massive and important project, a project that reflected on one of the most significant events in modern world history, and scared that i wasn’t perhaps as confident in my ability as John was. But once we had some conversations about the music, direction, collaboration, and recorded some demos it became apparent that this was indeed going to be and very exciting opportunity. When we first found out the site where we were to do the recording I did a little research about it, but not a lot. I wanted to go in blind and see and feel what was left behind. Of course i was enlightened to some facts from conversations with other members of the band and project, but otherwise did not know much of the history of the war in the area. I had ancestors who died close to where we were, so in some ways there was a connection there. We arrived at dawn one morning and initially were left to walk around the outside of Fort de Dououmont and soak up the scene as the sun rose. I remember taking a lot of photos of the gun turrets that looked like brass Dalek heads poking out of the ground, with the sun reflecting off it and a mist in the sort of moat area of the Fort. I imagined waking up there day after day waiting for the enemy or indeed battling them, and how that must have felt. Being cold and wet and hungry day after day after day... Once we got inside the fort it was damp, dark and had a very solemn vibe. We walked around exploring the tunnels and hearing the stories of the horrific deaths that happened in and out of the fort. It really was an incredibly brutal war with a lot more face to face fighting than is seen in modern warfare. There was even a sort of shrine in front of a wall where something like 300 german soldiers were buried!! But after a while of walking through the tunnels and treading softly and carefully, respectfully, my mood changed and i realised that the war was not the end of this place. It doesn’t have to be the lasting memory of the fort. We were there to try and bring some positive energy to this place. To replace the horror with a feeling of love for other humans. To make music and harmonise with nature and its surroundings. To respect what had been, but also what can be. That was an important moment for me as once we got to do the recording, i was able to turn my amp up and really lay into it without feeling like i was being disrespectful to the many many men who had had their lives taken to early and too brutally. To play music in a place like that was an incredible experience. Aside from the history of Fort de Dououmont, the acoustics of the tunnels where incredible and i don’t think any other guitarists have, or will get the opportunity to turn up a Fender Twin Reverb, plug in a Burns Split Sonic and play music written by a world renowned composer in there!
But I had in front of me the dead man, the dead French soldier, and how I would have liked him to have raised his hand, I would have shaken his hand and we would have been the best of friends
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