Bali High – Soundtrack

Update: Since this post was made, Michael Sena left some great comments (see below); Anthology Records listened to the dub I shared here, and contacted me to see if I can share Michael’s contact info (I did); and then they remastered and released the album on CD and vinyl! GET IT HERE. It’s way better than the recording in this post. Here’s my post about the release.

bali high cover

 

This is the soundtrack to one of the most awesome surf videos ever made. Bali High came out in 1983 or so. It was written, directed, and shot by Stephen Spaulding (he later made a bunch of snowboard vids, and wedding videos…). A friend of mine had this while I was in high school, and it was in our top rotation (we tended to watch a surf video or two every day). So I’ve watched this video like 50 times at least.

A few years ago I tracked it down on dvd. But it had the “original soundtrack.” Originally when it was released and played in little theatres on the coast the soundtrack was an underground soundtrack, featuring tracks by the Rolling Stones and many other bands who would likely never agree to release their songs for this movie (or if they did, the cost would be prohibitively expensive). So for the VHS release (in 1984), Spaulding had a new soundtrack made. This VHS version is the one I’d grown to love. Hearing the Rolling Stones doing the intro, rather than the wild jungle rhythms in the theme song, was disconcerting. Despite what Spaulding was into at the time, I do not think that classic rock fits this vid at all.

The new soundtrack is sort of mysterious. At the end of the video it says recorded by Mantra Sound, with all songs written and performed by Michael Sena. However, if I had guessed I would have guessed the soundtrack contained a number of distinct bands. There is a fairly wide array of styles here. It’s very possible that he had a bunch of session musicians and singers at his disposal. The styles are all kind of in a psychedelic-70s genre: bongo jams, ballads, dubbish rock, soft folk, instrumental guitar rock, synthy-disco rock, etc.

After the disappointment of the DVD, I tracked down a VHS copy. Then I transferred it to DVD, then zapped the audio off of it. So, the audio quality is not the most pristine. On top of that, the quality on the original VHS is not even that great – it’s sort of warbly, and some songs peak at points. However, I still love it!

bali high still

It’s probably a much different experience to listen to this without having watched the video. But, to help set the mood for you, the narration is included (it’s interjected into the songs, so I couldn’t remove it)! Spaulding’s narration is golden. He speaks in a pretty monotone, west coastal accent, and tells us about the mysterious places we’re scoping, and the surfer’s who’re braving the odds. Example: “From the human perspective, the going is a bit rougher. But you can get there just the same if you keep your mind set upon the goal.” (There’s a video from the ’90s – I think it was Above and Beyond – that had Spaulding narrate one section in his trademark style… it was funny!)

Back in the late ’70s/early ’80s, when this was filmed, Bali was obscure and difficult to access (for surfers). It was first gaining exposure at this time (and I’m sure this film went a long way in getting people pumped about it). Bali High is the definitive take on this region.

All the track titles are made up by me!

Sample track (the theme song):

25 tracks
1 hour 27 minutes.
download

p.s. hardcore punkrockers – I was just at my parents’ house, and picked a little stack of 7″s I had in their garage – a lot of stuff that I had received for review for HaC, and kept because it was good. I’ll get cracking on posting it. Hopefully there’s some stuff in there you haven’t heard.

26 thoughts on “Bali High – Soundtrack

  1. Yeah, totally. It’s a good movie. And it has a good soundtrack. And it’s appealing to non-surfers because unlike the vast majority of other surf movies out there, it has a narrative.

  2. Pingback: The Search - Soundtrack | (mostly) blue skies above us

  3. regarding the movie bali high

    there is a song on the begining of the movie

    start from the minut

    3:20 until the 7:18 minut

    kind of jazzy funky-great song

    and i am looking for the name of the song and the name of the band

    thanks

  4. regarding the movie bali high

    there is a song on the begining of the movie

    start from the minut

    3:20 until the 7:18 minut

    kind of jazzy funky-great song

    and i am looking for the name of the song and the name of the band

    thanks
    please e-mail me

    mangelbalitour@windowslive.com

  5. This movie stoked me out of my mind in the mid eighties. I had never imagined humans could have that much fun and adventure. i wore out my old copy and got a new one and, I had the same reaction, I was crestfallen to hear the music changed because it made the movie lose it’s magic. I wish I could find a DVD copy of the groovy and intense soundtrack that fired my imagination. Watching the exploits of the true “cool kids” like Lopez, Boyum, McCabe, et. al. who risked it all and payed the ultimate price to uncover the truth about single fin soul surfing.

  6. Sweet, garrit.

    I’m thinking of attempting to upload some surf vid, including this one, to youtube (and will have to break them up into 10min sections). When I’ve done clips in the past (like this http://www.youtube.com/blueskiesaboveus#p/a/u/0/FYBqt8ev_KY ) the quality is pretty low. So I’ll try to figure out how to do it better quality. But it’s hard to relive these vids these days, unless you still have a VHS player.

    I’ve got some rad ones. Have you seen Gripping Stuff? It’s an australian one from the mid-80s. Focused on “hi-performance” surfing – aka a lot of Tommy Carroll and other rippers. I think people will dig it, and it’s got a rad soundtrack, too. Lots of unknown (to me) aussie bands.

  7. Great stuff, sir – and I say this having never seen Bali High, only listened to this intimate vhs soundtrack rip. There are sooo many good, lost surf films out there, with twice as many lost surf soundtracks like this one. Michael Sena, get in touch! I’d find the money (somehow) to re-release this music on CD.

  8. Pingback: Bali High Note « Pig State Recon

  9. Wow, I was quite surprised when someone from the past found me through this website and made the comment that a lot of people looked favorably upon the soundtrack I wrote for Bali Hai back in 83′. It was my second attempt at writing for picture and Steve made it easier by bringing in a cassette of the original soundtrack. Most times, I just listened to each song and tried to create something that kept the feel of the original songs, I think there were 22 pieces. For $500 up front and a promise of something on the back end, I had to fill 90 minutes with wall-to-wall original music. I didn’t use any previously written songs except for ‘Ride’ which was a jazz ballad called ‘Winter’. Except for a few vocalists and one band-tracked song I played all the instruments on the score, tracked individually and sometimes with the help of the latest thing in early 80’s music production, a sequencer, given to my by Graham Nash. With the aid of a DX-7, drums and a few guitars I deliberately tried to make each recording sound like it was a different band. My modus operandi back then was to play as much as I could myself. Then I’d go down to Club Jetty where they hired cover bands from the mainland by the month, and pick a keyboard player or vocalist to do what I couldn’t. I’d usually trade them for recording time or they’d just want to do it to be part of the video.

    What’s interesting about writing scores (I still do) is that there is really no feedback from the viewing audience. One sends it out there and it either gets aired or not but the royalty checks (if there are any) don’t reflect how the audience likes or doesn’t like one’s music. In fact, the only feedback I ever got on BH was when Titus Kinikmaka confronted me in a parking lot to ask me why I wrote such diabolic music under his session. I told him that I was trying to imitate ‘No Spill Blood’ by Oingo Boingo. We’re friends so he just let me off with a scowl, no dirty lickens.

    My awesome and beloved studio was destroyed by hurricane Iniki on Sept. 11, 1992. A month later, I made the decision to move to the mainland for a couple of years to study composition at UCLA with the intent of returning home when the island came back. Well, even after five years, the island economy was in a terrible state and I had built a commercial studio in LA. I have been here since but lately have started making plans to move back to Kauai. I still write scores but also produce videos, one of which will be released this year on DVD, Kauai Unveiled. It’s an adventure trip around Kauai, part of which I shot in HiDef from an ultralight at 7000′ above Kauai and Niihau, our neighbor island. It features, once again, a mashup of different styles all sounding like its several bands, but its just me, still tripping on the amazing beauty of nature through music. If anyone would like a copy of BH I can get you one copied from the only existing version that I have, a cassette. Sadly, the masters were destroyed in the hurricane.

  10. Hi Michael!

    This is an amazing comment. I’m stoked to hear all this detail about the soundtrack. I think it’s great that people have been digging this post and spreading the word – since, yeah, your soundtrack is an exceptional one. I’d been hoping more people would be checking it out – and they have!

    And it’s really cool to see it get your attention (and, of course, I’m thankful that you don’t mind that I’ve shared it here).

    Man, I was convinced that there were a number of different bands on this soundtrack. I know it just says your name in the credits, but I was like, “naw, that can’t be accurate.” You did a fantastic job setting various moods.

    One question: There’s one song – past the halfway mark – that’s about a girl who commits suicide. What is her name? Agatha Tram… something like that? That’s a great song – I’d just like to be able to sing is accurately 🙂

    I’m still trying to upload the entire video to the web, but the site I’m using is having lame problems with it. It will work one of these days, I hope. Then people will be able to scope both the sound and the sights!

    Definitely keep me posted about Kauai Unveiled. I’d love to check that out when it comes out.

  11. The song you’re referring to is ‘Agatha Trim’. One of the only songs that I know of that has been covered by another band. That was an interesting concept that came directly from a dream. Its unique in that it was recorded in its entirety in one day – I started tracking right after I woke up and didn’t stop until that night when I put my name on the title – that’s my ritual act of finishing a song. The premise behind it is that a girl is born with total awareness of the world. She grows up beautiful. But disappointed in the way she’s treated by people jealous of her intelligence and beauty, and in the many men she dated, she decides to off herself, ‘trim’ her existence off the earth. I think I made up the name.

    Agatha was an artist and in the dream, we lived in houseboats along a river bank near a city. We had aquariums but instead of housing fish there were liquid pictures that floated on the surface of the water. That’s why I sing ‘she could paint a picture on the standing water’. Much of this song’s lyrics are a creative but literal description of things in the dream. I think the line ‘back at the boats, we all discuss her and make believe we don’t care why she left us.’ pertains to the human tendency to defend our ignorant words rather than accept responsibility for its damage to others.

    Musically, this was another excercise in writing in odd tempos. A lot of my writing is in odd meters, very little 4/4. Back in those days I was into making things as complicated as possible to play without the listener knowing. There are 15/16 bars and 5/8, 13/16 going on all over the place. Can’t dance to it but its interesting.

    Since your website is about surf films I’m surprised you haven’t covered ‘Totally Commited’ in your discussions. This was the second project I did for Steve Spaulding and Isomer Productions a few years later. I think its actually a better film and score. If you ever get around to reviewing it I’ll tell you about ‘Dexterd the Sex Squirt’!

  12. Michael,

    Sweet! Great background on that song. Sounds like a really cool dream, too. Aquarium with liquid pictures…

    I’m not very musically literate, but yeah, I can sense some odd time signatures on that song. And I like the intro, and how it then slows down once the vocals come in.

    This blog is mostly about hardcore punk, actually, not surf flicks. Over the last couple years I’ve transferred a bunch of vinyl-only punk records to mp3, and shared them here. But I’m also way into surfing, so I shared some surf stuff, too. I don’t own Totally Committed, and I haven’t seen it – but now I’m on a quest!! I NEED to see him film. (Most of the surf flicks I own are from the ’90s.)

  13. Totally Stoked to find this file. Bali High remains my favorite surf movie ever. I still ride those old single fins looking for the sand sucking monsters! The music has just brightened up this old mans day after my first two session day in a decade.

    Great stuff!

  14. great blog post. bali high is epic. it never really gained alot of surf mag exposure. it was a more underground video. unreal though. easily one of the best. racetrack footy is some of the best. and the honolua bay. so sick. and the west side footage… this video is a road map to living a good life. surf all the spots in this film and you are wel on your way to living a happy life. 🙂

  15. i just noticed michael sena commented on this post. yeah . amazing soundtrack. so unreal. i was 12 visiting kauai with my folks from new jersey. i was in a gift shop and a hippie woman was there and we started talking. i told her i liked surfing and she sold me the bali high video. told me her friend made it. or maybe her friend made all the music for it. anyway i bought it and brought it home. and would watch it over and over during the cold New Jersey winters. fast forward 25 years… the film has motivated me and gave me a sense of familiaroty to surf and score in bali and kauai countless times. thank you michael sena and steven spalding – you guys changed my world.

  16. ok so i just downloaded the music and i read your story about agatha trim. and i just pieced it together. that is one of the best songs of all time. and tracked over tom carrol at racetrack. dude.
    it just reminds me that this video is soooo unreal you guys. sena and spaulding and really nailed it.
    stoked for you guys. you made history. you truly documented the real surf adventure seekers. the real dudes that went out and got the good waves. no travel insurance. no safety net. no internet. no heli evacs. the only words i can think of… SURF PIONEERS.

    • Chris – I agree. Thanks for your comments.

      I feel like I’m missing out having not seen their next movie, Totally Committed. I’d be surprised if it captured the magic as well as Bali High. But… I’ve heard it’s really good!

  17. Awesome read!! One of my favorite surf flicks. Thanks for commenting Michael. Your soundtrack rocks!!

    Anyone have the lyrics for “Agatha Trim”?

  18. Haven’t dropped in for two years and am happy to help the last poster with the lyrics. Incidentally, I’ve started playing with a band call Fetal Zombie. If you’re into punk check it out on Reverb Nation – we’re going to cover AT!

    Agatha Trim – Lyric and music copyright by Michael Sena

    Agatha Trim had tiny fingers
    They accounted for no more than five percent of her body
    She was a brain with no protection
    and she could paint a picture on the standing water
    I had a dream and she was in there
    She killed herself in angry sign of confusion
    What did she mean in her last message
    that 14 years was quite enough, keep the per diem?
    None of her friends have come to miss her
    in the back of their minds painting all those tiny pictures

    (Instrumental Solo)

    Agatha Trim taught many lessons
    She taught me how to lay the paint upon the water
    Some of the kids liked to hit her
    for painting tiny scenes about mistreaters
    None of the men would call her girlfriend
    They’d never meet in public or wave from their Porsches
    Back at the boats we all discuss her
    And make believe we don’t know why she left us

    Agatha Trim had tiny fingers
    They accounted for no more than five percent of her body
    She was a brain with no protection
    And she could paint a picture on the standing water
    I had a dream and she was in there
    She killed herself in angry sign of confusion
    What did she mean in her last message
    That 14 years was quite enough, keep the per diem?
    None of her friends have come to miss her
    in the back of their minds painting all those tiny pictures

  19. I’m very happy to hear that our work is appreciated by those who have posted. Since my last post I was approached to release the soundtrack for Bali High by a lable in NYC called Anthology Records. For those of you that want the true audio experience of the songs you can get the entirety of it on CD or selected cuts on vinyl from them along with liner notes from me and Steve. The only copy I had of the soundtrack was on a cassette, but it turned out to be good quality. It was remastered so it went from my 8-track machine to cassette to mastering and then vinyl and CD. For us audio sluts it doesn’t get better than that. Thanks for asking.

  20. Michael – I have the vinyl and it’s amazing. I made an update post about the re-release here: http://blueskiesabove.us/entry/bali-high-soundtrack-on-vinyl/

    I’ll edit this post to point people in that direction, too.

    Anthology Records got your contact info from me! Since you were so generous as to leave a comment here, that provided me with your email address. I was a little worried about passing it along without your consent – but it all worked out!

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