Freezing Piano Part 3 - The Film and the Excavation

The filming day - as predicted - dawned dark (sunrise after 10am), and much warmer (-11C), but with a wind chill of -32C.

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Carmen Braden

The Film

The filming day - as predicted - dawned dark
(sunrise after 10am), and much warmer (-11C), but with a wind chill of -32C.

Recall that I mentioned we had the ideal
location for wind protection except if the wind came from the southeast?
Starting the night before the shoot, the wind blew hard and steady from that
exact direction. I was worried - would it make the camera shake? Would it render
our audio capture unusable? Would I get frostbite from having to stay slightly
exposed for minutes at a time while on camera? I would almost rather endure
-30C with no wind!

The wind also meant that our handy tourist
access road was almost completely blown with snow drifts. Once again, intrepid
crew with their impressive trucks turned down into low gear, and rode the
drifts like surfers. But how would the piano fare once the time came to drag it

The film crew from WAMP was bolstered by the
addition of Artless Collective and their Aerials North drone capabilities, and
a drone shot was taken before we cluttered up the set. Then the crew descending
on the piano, setting up the 360-degree camera, and audio rig that included two
contact mics on the piano, a hydrophone sunk into the water hidden behind,
audio on the camera and a lavalier mic on me for my voice. The camera held up
amazingly in the wind and cold, but the batteries on the audio gear were slowly
dying. Time to work fast.

Project administrator Nancy MacNeill and I
disappeared into the heated and hidden tent set up in the willows to finalize
wardrobe and makeup. My biggest concern was whether the makeup would run with
the inevitable frosty eyebrows, nose drips, and warming ups…

The 360 degree quality of the camera meant that
no film crew could be at the camera, or in view in any direction. After
starting the camera, the WAMP crew scattered to hiding spots leaving me
apparently on my own on a frozen lake beside a frozen piano. A magical feeling.

The Excavation

As soon as filming was done, we started getting
the piano out of the ice. The sun was already low in the sky - ok it’s always
low this time of year. Don and the 5-foot chainsaw reappeared and cut trenches
around the four sides of the piano. The crew jumped in with ice picks,
perforating holes down into the water - once again causing everyone’s snow
pants to get a wind-repelling ice crust.

A giant yellow Herc strap was tied around the
legs and body of the instrument and secured to the biggest truck we had in case
it did break free early. And when the ice was Swiss-cheesed enough, the truck
and driver gave it a couple bold tugs, and it popped like an ice cube getting
loosed in its tray. A bit more gas was given, and the truck hauled the piano
straight out of the hole, falling gracefully backwards. The momentum of the
truck kept going, and the piano slid smoothly behind over the snow for 20
meters on its back, somehow beautifully dignified, like a reclining nude on a
crazy carpet. Most of the remaining ice was easily chipped out of the bottom of
the piano, and aside from some frayed wood where the Herc strap had bit into
the sides, it was remarkably in good shape!

We realized the truck could actually pull the
piano all the way to the Dettah Ice Road where we had a loaned flatbed skidoo
trailer waiting (with a repaired flat tire - thanks to Pablo Saravanja!). Don
twitched his ice-covered walrus moustache, and we watched the truck and piano
drive off into the sunset, a plume of fresh snow rising like a phoenix tail

All that was left at the site to do was pack up
the gear and ensure the site was as clean as we left it. This included clearing
the ice blocks to prevent skidoos or people from hitting them and marking the
ice hole with Keating Smith’s ingenious bamboo reflectors so no one would take
an unexpected dip. The piano was muscled onto the flatbed, and driven carefully
and slowly to its final resting place.

Freezing piano in the ice for Northern Sights 360 vr project.
Freezing piano in the ice for Northern Sights 360 vr project.