2012-10-09

Music As Art

A few years ago, I discovered the YouTube videos of an amateur musician who goes by the nickname "SongeLeReveur." His general modus operandi is arranging songs from classic video games for various instruments, playing them, and uploading them on YouTube. It's quaint.

Or, at least it was quaint. Watching his musical and artistic development unfold over the years has been a real inspiration to me. To be sure, I have more "guitar technique" than he does, but there is something about the way he plays his music that is nothing short of brilliant. But it didn't start out that way. It started out as a simple discovery of music, from the hands of a novice to the hands of a developing expert.

His first video shows him as a young man playing some arpeggios on a nylon-string guitar, from a Final Fantasy video game (about which I know nothing). At a certain point, he began multi-tracking his videos, recording one track of a particular piece and then embellishing on it. This early 2008 video, for example, shows SongeLeReveur playing some incredibly simplistic 12-bar blues, ostensibly from another Final Fantasy video game segment of some sort. The technique here is not anything beyond what the novice guitar player can do, and yet even there, the delivery involves a quiet sense of artistry that is well beyond what novices typically deliver.

Slowly, more instruments began appearing in the videos. He started with a bass guitar duet, then came bass-and-electric-guitar. It was becoming evident that SongeLeReveur's musical background either contained some jazz theory, or he was a dedicated student of the video game composers to which his YouTube channel was dedicated. And his love for music and musical experimentation really started getting evident in October 2008, when he recorded his first piece featuring an ocarina.

Then came this: His initial recording as a one-man quartet...
This was a game-changer. All of the elements were there, from the quiet confidence to the patient delivery. This was an artist discovering his medium. He was delivering something that was simultaneously fond and fun to listen to. This was something that even people who know nothing about video games could enjoy. This was music for an audience. And at nearly 60,000 views, it's clear that he found it. All he needed now was...

...a hat.
 How he happened upon the idea is not quite clear, but there it was: a fuzzy woolen toque covering his eyes as he played. Later, he would say "The hat found me."

The defining feature of an artist is not the mere ability to create, but rather the ability to create within a certain sense of "conceptual continuity." Anyone can write or play a number of musical pieces, but it is only an artist who does so with a consistent sense of what he or she is bringing to the table. Over a year after starting his YouTube journey, SongeLeReveur had found something that many musicians struggle their whole lives to find. He had the medium, he had musicianship, and finally, he found his sense of artistry.

As things developed, he started delivering progressively more ambitious material. Here he is playing a clarinet in a Final Fantasy song arranged for seven-piece ensemble. Here he is playing a rocked-out version of a Sonic the Hedgehog tune. Live acoustic duets with friends. Electric sitars.

No, wait a minute. That one's good enough to embed. Check it out. Listen to that percussion.
Live drums (and sitar again) appeared next. French horn (via collaboration). Banjo.

What more is there to say? SongeLeReveur is a true artist. I've spent hours listening to his music and watching his videos - far too much time for an adult to dedicate to video game songs, and yet what he has managed to produce is a body of work that is genuinely fun to listen to.

Why is that important? Think about how many amateur musicians you know. Think about all the people you have known over the years who have put together albums, held "CD release parties," printed posters and stickers, and have pretended that they are going to be rock stars. Think about all those friends you know with garage bands and all the music they've been making since their early teens. Considering all that forgotten music, you couldn't be bothered to listen to it for more than a few minutes at a time, because the only interesting thing about that stuff is the fact that the person playing it is someone you know.

To create music that people want to hear, even though it's being played by a total stranger, is the aspiration of anyone who ever thinks to pick up a musical instrument. This intangible quality that represents a real love for music and the joy that comes with sharing it with other people, this quality is something that SongeLeReveur has in spades. (He also has a couple of super-cool Suhr guitars, a Parker guitar, a Music Man bass... the guy has some really cool gear.)

Follow his blog here. Become a fan on his Facebook page here. Explore his YouTube channel here. What a great musician. My hat is off to him (pun intended)!