Faith in Ailao Mountain is the first documentary I’ve written music for. It examines the cost of China’s one-child policy on the caregivers whose job it was to carry out the policy. It is a personal story between the filmmaker, Zhang Ci, and her mother, who was one such caregiver. The documentary is set in the Ailao Mountains in Yunnan Province where many people practice Islam, and offers a rare glimpse into the lives of Chinese Muslims.
The emotional weight of the story moved me from the moment I first watched it, and that put me in a place to write the music. This particular cue plays during an important scene when Zhang questions her notions of faith.
You’ll notice the sound of birds. During the film we learn that the bodies of babies were often placed in the tops of trees and left for the birds. This is called a sky burial, an idea I found disturbing, though it is a common practice in various cultures. I couldn’t get the visual out of my head, and so I decided to add bird calls as a subtle pointer to that idea. But I used a synthesizer to create the bird sounds. I wanted them to sound artificial to give them a sinister feeling.
Zhang Ci asked me to include “18 Birds in a Winter Sky” in the film. I decided to use it in this cue, but with strings and ambience added to give the whole piece a darker mood. To me, this scene is like a confession: Zhang reveals something troubling, but the act of talking about it releases the poison. So through the music I tried to create a catharsis, such that when the music finishes, you feel a weight has been lifted from the filmmaker.