Film uses military infrared technology to highlight beauty and fragility amidst growing global tension

BAFTA winning film maker Yulia Mahr is to reveal her new video for Vladimir’s Blues, from Max Richter’s Deutsche Grammophon album The Blue Notebooks. The film is an artistic response to escalating global tension.

Yulia Mahr’s take on Vladimir’s Blues receives its official YouTube global premiere on 11th February 2020 (11am EST/5pm CET/4pm GMT), immediately preceded by a 30-minute live chat between Mahr and Richter.

Vladimir’s Blues is about fragile beauty and the power of small things to elevate our everyday experience. Yulia Mahr’s short film unlocks the positive power of a technology originally developed for surveillance and military purposes.

She essentially subverts that purpose, using thermal imaging cameras – which transform infrared radiation (heat) into visible images – in a creative context to shape a narrative about a composition and the inspiration behind it.

Vladimir’s Blues has so far scored over 105 million streams to become Max Richter’s No.1 streaming track. The Blue Notebooks was not only a protest album, but meditation on violence in general, and particularly the violence that Richter experienced around him as a child.

Richter had an unhappy childhood, which he would escape through music, literature and a love and fascination for beautiful things – especially butterflies. In Vladimir’s Blues, Mahr poignantly highlights Richter’s story of a lost child escaping into music. The piece also leans on Mahr’s own difficult childhood.

The artistry of the finished product belies the huge number of challenges involved in using instruments designed for military and industrial applications. ‘The cameras are unwieldy and cumbersome … They interrupt filming every 15 seconds or so … One small movement pulls you out of focus …’ – as Mahr explains, the list of difficulties goes on and on.

It was the message of peace inherent in The Blue Notebooks, which began life in 2003 as Richter’s personal protest against the Iraq War, that led Mahr to explore the creative possibilities of thermal imaging. ‘I wondered about this technology of war and surveillance, and whether I could disrupt its intention to create something positive, that speaks very much of individual experience,’ she recalls.

And in her hands, a technology that routinely dehumanises is transformed into a vehicle for expressing our shared humanity.

‘There is a strange beauty inherent in this imagery, a beauty that is deeply tarnished by associations with migrants hiding, and dying, in refrigerated lorries to evade detection by this very same technology.

Would it be possible to claim this imagery for something hopeful, as Max’s music does?’ This was the question Mahr asked herself as she set out to produce her profoundly moving film.

‘Slowly a thing of beauty began to evolve. Most beautiful of all was the discovery that the heat traces we leave as we move around can tell our stories, and the story of a piece of music and how it unfolds. A legacy that says, ‘we were here and we count’.

Richter and Mahr have worked together for over 25 years as part of Studio Richter Mahr, a collaborative home for their creative projects. At its core is the belief that creativity exists as a social project that can illuminate the lives of individuals and society as a whole, and that art exists beyond all boundaries.

The duo recently collaborated on SLEEP, followed by a documentary on the project, which premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival to critical acclaim.