Photo by Aaron Munson

Cabin Music Review: Creating a World of Sounds

James Carson offers a self-portrait of his creative process

3 mins read

Cabin Music
(USA/Canada, 75 min.)
Dir. James Carson


James Carson is a truly unique individual, one deserving of a documentary, which in what feels like a typical gesture, he’s made virtually by himself. Cabin Music is a self-portrait of Carson, who is Edmonton-born but a world traveller who has spent time in places as far flung as Siberia, Kyoto, Barcelona, Auvergne, Los Angeles, and Moscow. The film shows Carson, a pianist and composer who draws inspiration from the traditions and cultures of the East as well as Europe, as he creates works that are impressionistic and deeply immersive. His musical style is an amalgam of Claude Debussy, Frederic Mompou, Duke Ellington, Cecil Taylor, and Keith Jarrett. The music floats above appropriate images of the diverse locations he’s inhabited, ranging in style from naturalistic landscapes to nearly hallucinatory manipulated images.

Cabin Music is a showcase for Carson’s considerable skills as a filmmaker as well as that of a stunning musician. He directed and edited the film, shot a considerable amount of it, and was involved in nearly everything else from producing to digital colouring. Nearly plotless, the film is focused in a strawbale cabin that he constructed (with help from friends) in remote Alberta. It was a coming-home of sorts for Carson: after all of his travels, he returned to his native province and to working on the piano, which he had abandoned for some time when he quit his classical education at the New England Conservatory.

The music in the film expresses Carson’s philosophy, which is very open and feels somewhat Buddhist. The only additional music besides his own meditative pianistic excursions are works with the acclaimed Tuva throat singing and instrumental group, Huun-Huur-Tu, whom he must have met in his travels in Mongolia. Throughout, the film feels contemplative and languorous.

Cabin Music is a beautiful film, truly exploratory and poetic. The music is wonderfully evocative of inner and outer states of being, which approach bliss. It is a one-of-a-kind experience, unusual for Planet in Focus and certainly worthy of being seen and enjoyed.

Cabin Music screens at Planet in Focus on Friday, Oct. 20 at 7:00pm.

Marc Glassman is the editor of POV Magazine and contributes film reviews to Classical FM. He is an adjunct professor at Toronto Metropolitan University and is the treasurer of the Toronto Film Critics Association.

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