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.

Sunday, 8 June 2014

3 Life Lessons Learned From Pokemon Red



I spent a ridiculous amount of time playing Pokemon Red as a child. It was the only game I ever owned for Gameboy. That wasn't because I couldn't get more games, it was because I ALREADY HAD POKEMON RED. Why waste time on an inferior game when I could just make the journey from Pallet Town to the Elite Four another dozen times?

While thinking about mindset that was needed to excel at the game, I noticed that there are some similarities to the mindset that I'm using to attack life right now.

Work Hard Now, Thank Yourself Later

I tried to make sure that the only trainer battle where there was ever any doubt that I'd win would the first one against Gary. After that, I wanted every battle to be dominated by my lineup, which meant hours and hours spent in the tall grass. Delayed gratification is crucial.

Adapt

Moves that are super effective against some opponents are useless against a lot of others. Nintendo had me constantly adjusting to the situation. If I didn't adapt, I'd end up paying for it.

Aim High

Before you have a chance to catch your first Pidgey or Rattata, your goal is to be the very best (like no one ever was). These days, I don't take on challenges hoping to just be pretty good, I'm always chasing perfection. That means I'll never create something that I'll be completely satisfied with, but it also means that I'll never get complacent. I'll be focused on improving forever.






Saturday, 7 June 2014

The Music Video That Changed My Life



Before I saw Alexisonfire's video for Pulmonary Archery for the first time, I thought that every artist was relatively stationary when they performed, and I thought that excessive screaming in a song was stupid. AOF shattered that way of thinking in two and a half minutes. There was so much energy radiating from them. They didn't care about playing it cool, they just let the music move them. I don't think I would have fallen in love with the song the way I did if I never saw the video. It was visceral and it felt more "real" than any performance I had ever seen before. Things that I didn't understand or consider previously became very clear in my mind. It was as if I had suddenly become fluent in a language I couldn't speak a few minutes earlier.

It sounds overly dramatic to say that the video changed my life, but it's hard to deny the ripple effect of that moment. A lot of the bands that I got hooked on were only given a chance because AOF was the gateway drug. Dance Gavin Dance, The Holly Springs Disaster, Killswitch Engage, I Hate Sally, and Every Time I Die, all became huge influences, post-Pulmunary Archery. I spent my teenage years in mosh pits watching and learning from these bands and dozens of others.

I started a few screamo bands during those years too, so all of the people I met through those endeavours, the experiences I had in those bands, and the effects that they had on me can be traced back to one music video.


Friday, 6 June 2014

My First Guitar Solo



I'm pretty sure that the first real guitar solo that I ever learned was the one from Californication. I was probably drawn to the song by the video. It came out about a year before I started playing guitar, at a time when all of my free time was spent gaming (and watching Reboot), so the video game theme of the video had me intrigued every time it was on TV.

Learning any solo seems like a daunting task when you're a beginner, but this one actually felt doable. Mr. Frusciante wasn't doing anything crazy. He gave every note room to breathe which gave me time to keep up.

Sidenote: Flea is one of the main reasons why I own a bass.



Thursday, 5 June 2014

My First Guitar Hero



Limp Bizkit was my favourite band for a long time and Wes Borland was the first guitarist that I ever really idolized. Yeah, my first idol wasn't Hendrix, Van Halen, or Jimmy Page, it was the dude from Limp Bizkit. I can feel the disapproval emanating from most of the guitarists that are reading this, but it's the truth!

He was really good at creating a weird atmosphere. Some of that had to do with his playing, but most of it came from his stage persona. He always had his face painted, he wore creepy coloured contact lenses, and he moved like he was out of his mind. It was as if he had just stepped out of a Tim Burton movie, and I thought that was beyond cool.

Rollin

My Way

Nookie

Wednesday, 4 June 2014

Fez Soundtrack



While trying to find some more cool movie composing opportunities, I've become really interested in the idea of making music for videogames. I always like to study people who are great at the things I want to be great at, so I've been listening to the Fez soundtrack.

The music is a huge reason why I love this game so much. Disasterpeace did an amazing job with it. The songs manage to remind me of old school games, while also adding a level of depth than those old soundtracks weren't capable of. They sound spacious, airy, and they make me think of vast empty spaces. There's rarely anyone onscreen during the game except for the main character, so Disasterpeace's work fits perfectly with the theme of isolation.

Reflection


Spirit

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Thoughts Are Reality (The Insanity Of Pessimism)



Henry Ford is responsible for one of my favourite quotes. He said "Whether you think you can or think you can't, you're right".

I think that the power each individual has over their own experience is often underestimated. The fact that our thoughts heavily influence our reality can be seen in countless examples of the placebo effect and self-fulfilling prophecies.

I've seen too many people act as if life is something that's happening to them instead of seeing it as something that they have the power to shape. I think that if we see ourselves as life's victim, that's exactly what we'll become. If we see ourselves as not only the clay, but also as the sculptors, we're capable of so much more.

Monday, 2 June 2014

My Experience In The Movie Business



I had no idea how insanely competitive composing for movies was until pretty recently. I've been trying to break into the field, but it's tough. Even student films with tiny budgets have composers swarming, and I haven't figured out how to set myself apart from the crowd yet. Given how hard it is to find work in movies, it's kinda crazy that my one and only job in film industry was on a pretty big project, and it happened when I wasn't even interested in composing.

Somebody at a German film music company heard my first Super Mario Bros remix and thought it would be a good fit for a feature film that they were working on called Türkisch für Anfänger (Turkish for Beginners), so they contacted me. I had to replace all of the samples with synths so we wouldn't get in trouble with Nintendo, the director was REALLY particular about the sound he wanted, and they only used a few seconds of my song, but it was still a very positive experience. I had no idea how popular the movie was going to be, so it was awesome to find out that it actually made it to number 1 at the German box office for a week. I really want to build on that experience now and get a bigger role in composing music for a movie.

If any major film companies are reading this, give Hans Zimmer and John Williams some time off. I can handle your next project for cheap.

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Everyone Should Become An Artist

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

Society tends to push people towards being like everyone else. From a young age most of us are taught to fall in line by authority figures and by our peers. You get reprimanded or ridiculed for straying too far away from the mean. Art is one of the few pursuits in life that allows you to do whatever you want to do and, no matter what decisions you make, you're never doing it wrong. There are specific techniques and conventions that can be adhered to in order to accomplish specific goals, but the great thing about art is that goals aren't necessary. It can just be pure expression. Every rule about how things should be done within any artform is merely a suggestion. You can get as weird as you want to be, and that freedom provides an environment where individuality can thrive.

When I say that everyone should become an artist, it's not really about becoming a great painter, musician, or author, it's about embracing individuality and realizing that it's ok to be different. I think that it's hard to find true happiness if our true selves are constantly being suppressed by arbitrary social norms.

Art is freedom.
Freedom is happiness.