The Colorado

The Colorado

The Colorado represents a new kind of documentary in which music takes center stage; a feature documentary that is both narrated and sung, a live performance, and a comprehensive educational resource. A crossroads between art, ecology and regional history, while sensitizing audiences to pressing issues of our times, The Colorado explores the Colorado River Basin from a holistic perspective and places the ecological predicaments of the region in a rich social and historical context. The project is driven by original compositions from William Brittelle, Glenn Kotche, Paola Prestini, Shara Nova (previously known as Shara Worden), and Pulitzer Prize-laureate John Luther Adams, all expertly performed by Grammy Award-winning vocal ensemble Roomful of Teeth, Avery Fisher Prize-winning and former Kronos Quartet cellist Jeffrey Zeigler, and composer-percussionist Glenn Kotche, all of whom collectively “convey primordial environmental beauty” (I Care If You Listen) that inspires “didactic drive and meditative awe" (New York Times).

The Colorado also draws on the combined talents of distinguished scriptwriter, conservationist, and general advisor, Pulitzer Prize-finalist William deBuys; editor David Sarno; director Murat Eyuboglu; and Emmy Award-winning cinematographer Sylvestre Campe. The film is narrated by Tony Award-winning Shakespearean actor Mark Rylance (who is not featured on the album). The album was produced, mixed and engineered by Ryan Kelly, with Brittelle and Zeigler serving as co-producers.

The mission of The Colorado is to create a crossroads between art, ecology and regional history, while sensitizing audiences to pressing issues of our times. The Colorado River has carved some of the most majestic landscapes on the planet for five million years, and its delta as a lush wetland is within living memory. Today, with a booming agricultural industry to support and nearly forty million people in a half-dozen major cities dependent on its waters, the Colorado is overused, over-promised, and unable even to reach its delta. 

The Colorado takes its audience on a 1,500-mile journey from the peaks of the Rocky Mountains, through the red cliffs of the Grand Canyon, to drought-plagued California. The project explores topics ranging from prehistoric settlements and early cartographers to today’s agricultural day laborers; from the construction of the Hoover Dam to its eventual annihilation of the river’s Mexican delta; and from the floods and mega-droughts of history to the many catastrophic phenomena that climate change is already bringing to the region. As Second Inversion writes, The Colorado makes us think about each other, our relationship to nature, and the vitality of “meaningful change we can create when we lift our voices together.

Integral to realizing this vision was the involvement of advisor and scriptwriter William deBuys, whose seven books include River of Traps, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and one of three finalists for the 1991 Pulitzer Prize. Long active in environmental affairs, it was deBuys whose efforts led to the permanent protection of over 150,000 acres of wild lands in North Carolina and the Southwest. His achievements have been recognized with a Guggenheim Fellowship and the National Range Management Award of the U.S. Forest Service.

“I have been drawn to the tragedy and beauty of the Colorado River Basin and surrounding area since visiting the Salton Sea on a whim in 2007,” says William Brittelle, New Amsterdam Records co-founder and The Colorado composer and co-producer. “I feel what William deBuys has so expertly called a sense of ‘elegy’ about the entire region. Many of the changes happening are now irreversible, and it feels extremely meaningful to commemorate the river and all it has given to the communities that rely on it for their very existence.”

In the film component, deBuys’s text is narrated by Mark Rylance, and accompanies music by The Colorado's five composers, each of whom brings to the project a unique and highly distinctive voice. (Rylance’s narration is not featured on the album.) Hailed as “one of the most original musical thinkers of the new century” (New Yorker), John Luther Adams has won both the Pulitzer Prize in Music and the Heinz Award for his contributions to raising environmental awareness. The co-founder of New Amsterdam Records, Brooklyn’s William Brittelle is the creator of pop-influenced electro-acoustic concert music that Classical TV calls “a body of work that has no precedent, and marks him as a one of the most promising heirs of the vital American maverick tradition.” Chicago-based percussionist and composer Glenn Kotche, best known as the drummer of indie-rock outfit Wilco, has also composed for such world-class ensembles as the Kronos Quartet, Bang on a Can All-Stars, So Percussion, eighth blackbird, and the Silk Road Ensemble. Dubbed “a creative chameleon with endless wells of technical skill” (Pitchfork), Shara Nova (previously known as Shara Worden) enjoys a multi-faceted career, fronting experimental rock band My Brightest Diamond and collaborating with the likes of David Byrne, David Lang, and Laurie Anderson, in addition to writing her own music. And VIA founder Paola Prestini – named one of the “top 100 composers in the world under 40” (NPR) – incorporates powerful visual and dramatic elements into her music, enabling her to address such extra-musical issues as conservation, astrophysics, and politics in works that the Washington Post calls “spellbinding.”

The Colorado is the first in a series of three multimedia projects designed to foster better understanding and stewardship of the environment. A textbook component that corresponds to the film section by section, with original text, timelines, maps, photographs and videos is planned for release in winter 2016. This educational resource will be available both in an artbook-style print edition and as a state-of-the-art website.