Sunday, 22 June 2014

Why Am I So Interested In 1980s Miami?



My list of cities that I really want to visit is pretty generic. Tokyo, Paris, London, and Rio de Janeiro are my destinations of choice. I never thought that a North American city would catch my attention, but now I'm realizing there's something about Miami. Especially the 1980s version of the city.

As I was working on a Miami in the 80s-style song this week, I realized that a lot of my favourite games, movies, and TV shows over the years have been set in that city. The first ones that come to mind are:

Dexter
CSI: Miami
Hotline Miami
GTA: Vice City
Miami Vice (2006 movie)
Scarface

I started trying to figure out why I find Miami so intriguing, and I think it's the combination of the city's beautiful exterior and the darkness that hides just below the surface. That can be said about most big cities, but Miami's portrayal seems to take things to extremes. The weather, beaches, palm trees, night clubs, etc... all paint the picture of an incredibly fun place to be. This makes the city's underworld seem particularly heinous due to the stark contrast.

I think the 80s portrayal of Miami takes the contrast to another level. The fun side of Miami comes across as even less harmless (probably due to the pervasive use of neon pink and the synth heavy dance music), while the underbelly remains just as dark.

Saturday, 14 June 2014

The Whole Sky

 Photo by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/vice1/ https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/

It's so easy to allow the negative moments in life overshadow the positive. I make an effort to look on the bright side of things, but it's difficult sometimes. That one tiny dark cloud gets all of the attention while the beautiful clear sky around it gets ignored.

I have to keep reminding myself to see the whole sky.

Friday, 13 June 2014

Mastery



A few months ago, I finished a book by Robert Greene called "Mastery". In it, Mr. Greene told the stories of people who had risen to the top of their fields, and explained what it took for them to get there.

No matter what field the masters were in, art, science, business, etc..., the basic formula was the same. Tenacity, creativity, and passion got all of them to the top. I have a long way to go, but I'm on the right path.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Stream



This feels like a transition song. Over the last few years, I've been limiting myself; conforming to other people's ideas about how music should be made. My Times Infinity album was the first step towards freeing my mind from those thoughts and my Believe Me cover took it a little further. Stream builds on that progress and gets me even closer to the mindset that I want to have.

This was originally going to be a cover of Nicki Minaj's "Pills N Potions", but as I started straying further and further away from the original song, it didn't feel right to try and build a forced connection between what I was making and Nicki's song.

I tried not to over think things and just let the ideas flow. It was like a stream of consciousness, hence the name. My songs are gonna be more focused soon, but for now, I don't want to limit myself.

You can get the song here: http://levarallen.bandcamp.com/track/stream


Wednesday, 11 June 2014

The First Time I Put Music Online

Photo by: https://www.flickr.com/photos/atxjen/  https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I think I was in grade 10 when I uploaded two of my instrumental recordings to Purevolume. I don't have the recordings anymore, but they were probably heavily influenced by Blink 182 and Sum41. By the next day, the songs had 60 plays, and I was so stoked. It's a pretty insignificant number, but it felt huge at the time. Suddenly, the music that I was making wasn't only being heard by family and the people that I jammed with. The songs slowly made their way to 1000 plays in about a year.

Putting my work in a place where it could be heard, and judged, by anyone was both exciting and scary. Honestly, it still is. It's a vulnerable position to be in, but getting my ideas out if my head and out into the world is always worth it.

Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Best Shows I've Been To Pt.2



Bon Iver shares the top spot with Chilly Gonzales when it comes to the best live performances that I've ever seen. In contrast to Chilly's solo show, Bon Iver had a stage so packed with people and instruments, it almost looked like an orchestra. Everyone on stage played 2 or 3 instruments and with all of those different sounds going on, it would have been easy for things to get muddy. Somehow, those varied voices managed to coexist.

The venue, Massey Hall, may have had something to do with that. I've never been to a venue with better sound than that one. The skill of the musicians, the beautiful song arrangements, and the acoustics of the building, all came together to create a perfect backdrop for Justin Vernon's mesmerizing vocals. Ranging from a deep baritone to his signature soaring falsetto, Justin's voice itself seemed like multiple instruments. It all came together perfectly to create something special.

The Bon Iver and Chilly Gonzales shows were opposites in terms of the complexity of their arrangements. However, they both managed to make their compositions feel "alive". While Chilly's solo piano pieces seemed to overflow with human emotions, Bon Iver brought their songs to life in a different way.

There were a few times during the show where the musicians would begin to freestyle. Up until that point, I had always thought of freestyling as one person playing a solo while everyone else backs the soloist up. Bon Iver did something different. Everyone would just start doing their own thing at their own random tempos. It was weird, but it worked. While Chilly's performance simulated humanity, Bon Iver's simulated nature. Hearing all of those sounds cutting in and out randomly felt like standing in a forest and listening to the sounds of the animals, running water, and the wind through the trees. It felt wild and organic. I loved it.


Monday, 9 June 2014

The Best Show I've Ever Been To



Chilly Gonzales is tied for the top spot when it comes to live performances that I've seen.
It was a unique experience for a lot of different reasons. It's the only show that I've ever seen at the Winter Garden Theatre, which is easily the most beautiful venue that I've ever been to. The ceiling was covered with leaves. It was almost as if the show was taking place in forest. The setting seemed like it would be perfect for a performance of A Midsummer Night's Dream. It was kind of surreal. There was no Shakespeare onstage that night, but it felt like I was watching a story unfold. It was just a guy and his piano, but it felt like so much more than that.

At 95% of the shows that I've been to, the live versions of the songs sound terrible compared to the studio versions. In most cases, it's practically impossible to mix all of the sounds perfectly in a live setting. Because of this, live shows were always about the energy of the performers and the crowd for me. The sound was always secondary.

The simplicity of Chilly's show (just a guy and his piano) prevented it from having any of those problems. Since the sound was only coming from one source, every tiny change was magnified, and Chilly knew how to take advantage of that.

Every song felt like a journey. They felt alive. He handled the harmonies, rhythms, dynamics, and melodies with the precision and subtlety of a true master. That night he painted a beautiful sonic landscape that I'm lucky to have experienced.



WHITE KEYS from SOLO PIANO II from Chilly Gonzales on Vimeo.