2019-02-01 / Up Close

Into the (Central Pa.) Wild

Suna Ansuna sessions promote wilderness conservation through music videos filmed in the woods of Central Pennsylvania.
Sarah Rafacz | Photos By Rashmit Arora

Beautiful wilderness and talented musicians are in abundance in Central Pennsylvania, and the Suna Ansuna music sessions series is taking full advantage of both.

Rashmit Arora, a graduate student in Penn State’s Energy, Environmental and Food Economics program, had always been an admirer of music series like the Mahogany Sessions and watchlistentell. “I always wanted to create similar videos using the artists that lived around me that I thought were really cool and really good and that the world should know about,” says Arora.

He connected with videographer Omkar Purandare, a Penn State sophomore double majoring in computational data sciences and acting, and they shot their first session in October at Tudek Park with Jesse Barki, of Sun Not Yellow, who was stopping by the area while on tour.

Each music video is shot by Purandare in one continuous take.

“When I started shooting, I fell in love with the single continuous shot,” says Purandare. “It fits beautifully … when we’re out in nature because it’s like you’re trying to find the rhythm with the musician and with nature and then you go with that rhythm, too.”

Meaning “heard unheard” in Hindi, the name Suna Ansuna is a nod to their shared love of Sufi music. Both Arora and Purandare are originally from India.

Suna Ansuna transformed into its current iteration of filming musicians out in nature with the aim of promoting conservation efforts with the addition of Sam Lapp, a master’s student in Engineering Design at Penn State.

With Purandare handling the visuals, Arora and Lapp tackle the audio. They mic up singers and each instrument to capture sound. They want it to sound good — but not too good. The musicians are in the woods, not a studio, and it should sound like it, Lapp says.

“Part of the project is about having these musicians’ real, authentic, natural voices heard, not their studio/recorded/on-stage voice,” he says. “It’s just more intimate, as if you were sitting right in front of them. And the other aspect is we want those stories of nature also that are going unheard to be heard through the project.”

Lapp had spent all summer trying to figure out a way to create a mobile music studio, a project for which he won $5,000 through the Emerging City Champions fellowship program. The program, according to its website, is “for young civic innovators with bold ideas to enhance public spaces, mobility and civic engagement.”

Lapp eventually realized that his original idea, to convert a school bus, wasn’t going to pan out. He says it was hard to step back and pivot from that first clear vision, but with some encouragement, he looked at the bigger picture of what he really wanted the project to be about: breaking music-making out of the recording studio.

The idea morphed into recording musicians outside in nature, he says, and using the environment of those music videos to teach viewers about the natural landscapes of Central Pennsylvania and why conservation of these spaces is important.

He and Arora, who both received their undergraduate degrees at Penn State, knew each other from busking on College Avenue and State College’s music scene. Lapp plays keyboard in local band Doppler Poppins, and Arora plays guitar and sings in Philadelphia-based Palmlines and Sea Offs, a New York/Pennsylvania-based band.

When Lapp found out that Arora and Purandare were already filming music videos outside, it erased any final doubts he had about moving away from his original project pitch. “It kind of happened organically between both of us, and then we came together,” Lapp says.

While Arora and Purandare didn’t have the intention of shooting in natural settings to raise awareness of conservation issues, Arora says they were “down” to go in that direction. Arora, after all, is studying to be an environmental economist.

So in the span of about four weeks, the trio filmed five more sessions: Natty Lou Race, of Raven and the Wren, at Whipple Dam State Park; Eric Ian Farmer at Bear Meadows Natural Area; Cold Weather Company, a New Jersey-based band, at the Barrens to Bald Eagle Wildlife Corridor; and Idle Kyle, a Philadelphia-based band that formed in State College, and Lenina Crowne, both at Alan Seeger Natural Area.

It isn’t lost on the trio that the musicians are essentially performing private concerts for them.

“It’s ecstatic. Every single time,” Purandare says.

“There’s this moment where we’re all focusing and getting the details and making sure nothing goes wrong and mixing the levels, making sure it’s not clipping and then you take the headphones off, and they’re just performing and it’s like, ‘Whoa, we’re in the woods,’” Lapp says.

As of Jan. 23, Suna Ansuna has released three sessions: Sun Not Yellow, Natty Lou Race and Cold Weather Company. (Check them out at They’ve also created a three-minute video about Whipple Dam State Park and its conservation story. And the trio plans to make those mini-docs for most of the music video locations. Once the weather starts to warm up, they’ll head back to the woods to film more sessions.

“We’re even thinking of going some places in the spring that ... have a story of failed conservation, of not being conserved — places where you can see the effects of humans’ impact when places aren’t protected properly,” Lapp says.

Suna Ansuna is also working with organizations like ClearWater Conservancy, Penn State’s Sustainability Institute and various Pennsylvania state parks.

These collaborations not only offer an opportunity for the Suna Ansuna guys to learn about the conservation efforts from the experts and translate that knowledge into their videos but also to leverage the organizations’ social media networks to distribute the content.

Lapp says they’ve used a little of the money from Emerging City Champions for the film editing process and some marketing, but he’s saving most of the funds to create a way for people to physically interact with Suna Ansuna’s content.

He’s prototyping kiosks that could serve as portals for the community to access their videos and be installed at local downtown spaces — like Webster’s Bookstore Café, New Leaf Initiative, or Schlow Centre Region Library.

In the future, Arora says he wants to expand the sessions beyond this region, going slightly farther out into the wilds of Pennsylvania to shoot videos, but bearing the same goal in mind: to tell unheard stories. •SCM

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