Probably been done 2001 times before, but what the heck ...

That Music

Since 1968, when Stanley Kubrick's   "2001: A Space Odyssey"  burst onto the sliver screen, "that" piece of music has been associated with sunrise. But of course, its association with sunrise is much older. Kubrick's genius was to give it a new, highly imaginative and "mass media" interpretation.

Richard Strauss  composed his tone poem "Also Sprach Zarathrustra", Op. 30  , in 1896. It typically plays for about 40 minutes of which the part we all know is just under 2 minutes. His inspiration was the book of the same title by the philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche  written between 1883 and 1885. Strauss was indeed trying to describe in music the sunrise; because in the book, Zarathustra's prolog opens:

"When Zarathustra was thirty years old, he left his home and the lake of his home, and went into the mountains. There he enjoyed his spirit and solitude, and for ten years did not weary of it. But at last his heart changed, and rising one morning with the rosy dawn, he went before the sun, and spake thus unto it:"

Zarathustra

Zarathustra, or Zoroaster  as he is better known to English speakers, was an historical Persian figure and the founder of the Zoroastrian  religion. Folk etymology has the name meaning "golden light", but there is no sound foundation for this, or indeed any other meaning. Scholars are divided as to when he lived with the most accepted date being 11th or 10th century BC, but other dates ranging as far back as 6000 BC are quoted by some. Source: Wikipedia.

The project, the filming, the edit

After so many projects that take years, or even decades, what a joy to do a project that takes just 2 months from start to finish, and then only a few hours work. And everything about this project was entirely serendipitous:

  • "Cubbyhouse"   was booked sight unseen by my sister in a last-minute change
  • We arrived as last light was falling. We could see there was a view but we had no idea how good nor that the rising sun would shine straight through the front door
  • Chance woke us for this sunrise, and I started filming literally seconds before the sun's limb made first contact
  • The quite heavy cloud cover which seemed likely to be a detriment, proved to be a significant enhancement
  • The project only came into my mind after seeing this and the subsequent sunrises; and
  • When I finally viewed the recorded image nearly 2 months later, there was remarkably little editing needed to "fit" the concept.

The music is the first 104 seconds of Stauss' tone poem. The Contrabasoon opening has been amplified 300% to be clearly audible, and the first of the well-known brass phrases has been amplified 200% fading to 100%, for the same reason.

The video image is a "straight through" run of the raw footage, with the only cuts being unsteady images from before what appears in the clip [while I was getting a stable platform for the camera (being the balcony railing - very high tech!)] and a 10 frame bounce at the start of the zoom back. Otherwise, the clip is the uncut sunrise.

However, for three reasons, the straight-through footage has been selectively speeded up and slowed down. First, at Cubbyhouse's lattitude, sunrise in September takes about 147 seconds, while the equivalent in my conception of Strauss takes under 1 minute. Second, the aim of the clip is to "choreograph" the footage with the music which requires certain key events to occur at very specific moments. And third, cloud cover and the dividing range meant the sunrise filmed was higher in the sky than a true horizon and hence slower still. Some pace changes were quite extreme, with most of the actual sunrise speeded up to 300% of normal, and the short stable footage I had before first contact slowed down to just 3.4% of normal.

There are no colour balance or exposure changes in the edit, other than a 22 second fade from black at the start and a 1 second fade to white to lead in the credits. The several jerky expsoure changes visible are the camera's not-so-sophisticated automatic exposure working with the rapidly brightening conditions, including, probably, an apparent brightening (which has a good visual effect) as the bright sun takes up less frame in the rapid zoom back from 10x to the camera's widest field of view. The camera is a 2006 Panasonic NV-GS300 3.1mpix. The operator is not necessarily highly skilled.

Mission accomplished?

Maybe, although I would not be surprised if I keep revisiting this clip as I gather more and better footage in the future. Still I have to admit, this footage is going to be hard to beat. Pity about the alarming zoom back, although it's flaws are mainly visible in full screen only.