In the world of audio production Canada's Daniel Lanois is a god. The man at the helm of all of U2's key records plus others by Bob Dylan, Peter Gabriel, Emmylou Harris, Willy Nelson and The Neville Brothers is arguably the most important behind the scenes figure in the music industry over the past two decades, only regular Coen Brothers collaborator T Bone Burnett coming to mind as a likely challenger to the throne. His work is as passionate as it is distinctive, his presence the common factor in career best records by a number of industry giants. Basically the man just really knows his shit. And now he wants to share it with you. Along with collaborators Adam Vollick and Adam Samuels, Lanois has set out to chronicle a year or so of his professional life explaining his ideas and philosophies along the way. The result is Here Is What Is, a fascinating look at an enormous artistic talent and his creative process.
Shot in a grainy, organic, slightly trippy style that mirrors the raw, do-it-by-feel style of its subject, Here Is What Is combines a healthy dose of performance footage - a treat for fans of the man, who doesn't release nearly enough of his own music for many people's tastes - behind the scenes recording sessions with U2 and Sinead O'Connor, amongst others, and more philosophical ramblings from Lanois himself and frequent collaborators such as Brian Eno. Is Lanois going to teach you to be a recording engineer in an hour and a half? No, of course not, but he certainly hopes to encourage people to cultivate a sense of beauty around themselves along with the discipline to properly pursue it.
Here Is What Is will draw attention for a number of reasons, not least of which will be U2's legion of rabid fans. But while, yes, there is recording footage shot by Anton Corbjin in Morocco the reasons to see this film begin and end with Lanois himself. The soundtrack is stellar, first of all, and Lanois himself is a passionate and articulate man, more than willing to let the audience peek behind the curtain. He demonstrates his playing technique, talks through his recording philosophy, and just generally oozes a genuine love for his craft. The show stopping sequence comes roughly at the mid point of the picture. We join Lanois in the control room as he explains that he doesn't see the mixing console as a piece of technology but rather as a musical instrument in its own right. Don't believe him? He then proceeds to live mix a freshly recorded track to prove his point, explaining everything he does throughout the process. It is a fascinating look at a true artist in his element and suddenly the value of the man's touch becomes achingly clear.
Thanks to Lanois' behind-the-scenes persona Here Is What Is will not likely garner nearly the attention of fellow festival rock-docs tracking the careers of Joy Division and The Who but it is no less worthwhile.