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Highsnobiety Q&A April, 10 2014

Highsnobiety Q&A | Ben Mead & Novemba Films on Ballantine’s “The Art of Drumming”

Scotch whisky makers, Ballantine’s, recently partnered up with London-based drummer Ben Mead on the experimental short film “The Art of Drumming.” It’s part of a series of films centered on the brand’s “Stay True” campaign, which features artists, creators and innovators from around the globe. After revealing “The Art of Drumming” and explaining a little about the concept behind it, we decided to delve even further behind-the-scenes into the unique project. We sat down with both Ben Mead, and Blair and Oliver from the directing duo behind the film, Novemba, to discuss the initial inspiration, the technical challenges that were presented in the groundbreaking video and more.

What was the initial idea behind the project?

Ben: Playing live has always been my favorite aspect of playing the drums – it has always been as exciting to me to watch someone play as listen, but I’ve long wanted to find a way to create that excitement for anyone, whether they have an interest in drums or not.

When we began discussing ideas for the film with the directors, we talked about the idea of capturing the full range of movement of the sticks, which we took to the tech guys, and got to the end result with their mind-bendingly clever software. Those guys are on another level.

What inspires your creativity from day to day?

Ben: It’s constantly changing. I’m inspired by everything to an extent, and everything that inspires me, even if it’s completely unrelated to music, I try and find a way to appropriate and incorporate into the writing and performance. Even if it just means thinking about something I like while I’m playing.

To cite a few go to examples though – Otis Redding, Leadbelly, Cormac McCarthy, Henri Cartier Bresson, Miles Davis, Aaron Weiss, Dave Turncrantz, JP Donleavy, Jon Theodore, Michael Jordan, Dipset. Any one or all of these names.


“I try and find a way to appropriate and incorporate everything into the writing and performance. Even if it just means thinking about something I like while I’m playing.”

How did you initially approach the concept of visualizing rhythm?

Novemba: We were invited by Ballantine’s to work with Ben on the idea of visualizing his drumming in a new way and the concept developed as a collaboration and an exercise in problem solving. Once we knew that there was no blueprint for a live light-painting technique that could be achieved in camera, we set about attaining precisely that.

What kind of technical challenges did you face when executing the idea and how did you overcome them?

Novemba: The challenge was to get a look that was truly organic to the motion of Ben’s playing and so had to be in camera, that was spurned from the playing itself rather than applied through post-production. Our partner in the project, Louis Mustill from Artists and Engineers, developed an app that we then refined over several months of testing to achieve the look we felt was right. There was a great deal of trial and error and we experimented with lighting setups, balancing the highlights and tones of the shot to maximise the viewer’s experience. We didn’t want the trails to emerge in darkness, and that was the really tricky part. Once Louis had proved the concept it was a constant collaboration between Ben, us, Louis’ team and our Director of Photography.

Do these results have any other practical uses or are they merely for novelty?

Novemba: In this case, the results were used to tell Ben’s story in a way that is both engaging and unique, entertaining Ballantine’s audience and creating a piece of visual art. We took the journey to this place this time around – hopefully there will be other practical uses down the line too!

Do you think you’ll expand on this idea in the future, and if so, in what way?

Novemba: We just loved being involved with the challenge to create something new and to pass it on. No doubt others will re-think, re-design and find new applications for this approach, and we can’t wait to see them!

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