We've come to expect Ghostly International to push boundaries. The independent label excels in everything from product design to lo-fi house records, and their roster of artists is deft in crossing creative lines. San Francisco-based multimedia artist Christopher Willits is a shining personification of the curatorial house's DNA. Willits—known for his innovative blend of acoustic and electric methods—created a cohesive seven-piece narrative of visual and sonic art called OPENING, in which the listener and viewer is given a sort of meditative landscape to get lost in and experience anew with each visit. Shot, edited, color adjusted, performed, mixed and mastered by Willits himself, OPENING is a project of many layers. We caught up with the artist to learn more about the project. We're also pleased to offer the premier of part six, "Wide" included here.
What inspired you to release this album as a film?
I've always imagined creating something like this and I'm so excited that it's all coming together. For a very long time I've been thinking about this and now is the time for it to happen. It's tools, my understanding of those tools and my intention in using them and where I'm at in my life all coming together. It's a convergence of all that I love, my ability to hold it all together and—technologically—the ability to capture, edit, mix and distribute something like this is just amazing to me. I would not have been able to do this on a technical level until recently. The tools I use are a big part of the creative process. I try to limit my tool set and work within those constraints.
Your blend of electric and acoustic techniques lends itself well to the film. Did the filmmaking inspire the music or vice versa?
The sound and the image definitely emerged together. I usually begin with sound. I'll have a general idea or feeling that I'm going for and explore all angles of it, and just let things happen. There's a lot of improvisation that happens and then I begin to attach images to the sounds that were beginning to live.
What's your creative process like for each medium?
I set an intention about why I want to create something, and form a clear idea of what that is going to be in my imagination. Then I improvise and play and let things take shape within this kind of environment I've set up in my imagination.
The intention is to create a space with sound and light that can be used as a tool for being at peace and recharging with; something that you can breathe into, open up into.
There's a meditative energy to the tracks I've heard and seen. Is there a narrative?
OPENING is a film and album that are completely connected. The intention is to create a space with sound and light that can be used as a tool for being at peace and recharging with; something that you can breathe into, open up into. Everyone is going to have their own unique experience of these overlapping sounds and images, but the intention is to create a space of opening. The word "opening" was really fitting for this project. The piece is about consciousness opening and expanding and, for me personally, it's the opening of a new stage of my life and creative process.
The story is designed to be subjective: anyone who watches it can come out with their own reading of what it means. For me, in general, it's an abstract narrative about the processing of opening—opening in the sense of letting go and being sensitive to everything around you, the energy that you are made of.
The piece as a whole is extremely cohesive.
I wanted the whole seven-scene, seven-track experience to be one connected vibration. I intentionally made the imagery and music weave into themselves. The tonality of the music, like movements of one large piece; the images like dreams that reoccur and echo. I like this idea of telling stories of personal transformation on a metaphorical and highly subjective level. I think the story can stay open and continue to change as we change.
Was doing everything yourself especially challenging?
This was the most challenging album I've ever created, and the most challenging film I've ever created. And it was the most fun and exhilarating project I've ever worked on. I really feel like this has set a new path for myself and I'm excited to approach another visual album like this.
This project taught me about so many technical details, but the main thing I learned was patience. Working with video to this magnitude, doing everything myself, opened up another process of planning and doing. Sometimes the idea would be completed in my mind, but the details of rendering and color and editing still needed to happen. It took a lot of patience to see this whole thing through.
My main projects after OPENING are continuing to develop my new member service at Drip.fm, finish a bunch of remixes, begin more work with aquaponics and urban food growth. I have some documentary ideas, I'm going to develop new classes to teach out of the Overlap Studio, and I want to just keep creating new work in the vein of OPENING.
OPENING is set to release 2 September 2014. Pre-order the special edition, a clear vinyl version with limited print, for $30.
Portrait courtesy of Tomo Saito, additional images courtesy of Christopher Willits