You Are Everything You Need (The Lyrics Are Now a Song)

Yes, you are all you need, and that is enough for a love song. What I mean is, a few days ago, I wrote a blog post about pop-radio love songs and how they’ve traditionally revolved around the subject of incompleteness… pain and longing… and the belief that you cannot feel whole without the presence or validation of another person.

As an antidote to this misconception, I wrote some song lyrics on May 11, 2018, called “Stars.” And over the weekend, I set those lyrics to music—a simple bass line with organ, vocals and guitar, recorded with nothing more than Abelton Live Lite, a Graphite keyboard and microphone.

Quality-wise, the recording is a demo.

If the vocals sound constrained in areas, the reason is simple. Where other songwriters enjoy access to soundproofed recording studios and proper audio equipment, my available “studio” basically consists of a laptop in an apartment where there’s little soundproofing. So as much as I enjoy getting lost in recording, I was also fairly conscious of what the neighbors were hearing and thinking as I worked through vocal tracks for a few hours.

I really have to start working on that FACTOR grant to get better digs.

Anyhoo, I hope you enjoy the demo, as well as the idea that you’re everything you need.

Have a great week, everyone!

–Xris

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How to Write a Song

“How do I write a song?” If you’ve ever asked yourself this, here’s the answer I’ve personally learned as a writer in my experiences with musicians:

It’s about being a good listener.

Here’s what I mean.

A few years ago, I interviewed electronic violinist Dr. Draw for a feature story in Starlight Music Chronicles, and he was extremely grateful that I understood something. As a performer who’d played on stages around the world, Draw had been interviewed countless times by journalists. In the course of that, Draw had become a bit frustrated by journalists working under the illusion that his ethereal music purely resulted from his technical skills… that if he hadn’t learned how to read music or know the notes he was playing, he’d somehow be unable to write music.  Yet I’d developed a different sense of how music really happens.

I’d come to the idea that music is like a river of notes always happening around us. Distraction, worry and a sheer unwillingness to relax and let go commonly prevent people from hearing this river. Yet for those who can focus past all that, “writing a song” simply involves two steps:

  1. Listen to the river.
  2. Write down what you hear.

For this reason, some of the world’s biggest songs have been written by artists who never learned how to read or write music.

In other words, knowing theory is great for lots of reasons. Yet notes and chords are a record of an experience. They’re the result of something.

In my interview, I likened Draw to an alchemist rendering what he heard into form through his violin, and he was so grateful to someone finally getting it that he wrote to personally tell me. (Such an awesome guy.)

A few months ago after finishing an original song called “Love Someone” for another artist, I again sat down to scribble my thoughts about where music comes from, but made a personal journey.

By sharing it here, I hope it helps you on your own creative journey and connection to spirit, the universe, river of notes or whatever you call it.

In the following reflections about “Love Someone,” I called this place the ocean:

“I sing sometimes of an ocean. Funny. I rarely write about the ocean in regular writing, but when I allow the lid to creak back even a bit on the Pandora’s box that seems to sit within my mind, I see that ocean… just rolling there… just smiling in the way that all oceans seem to smile… rolling and roiling, those great white waves… just smiling.

So it was that I smiled back yesterday evening, as I’ve not done in some time. It’s funny how you can forget an ocean when it’s right there all the time… always whispering on those fringe edges… on those beaches… where we ourselves walk, or once did, and to where we’re always drawn. It was to that shore breeze that I closed my eyes and drank in the lungful of life that’s always there for everyone, and where was I next?

It’s difficult to say. There was an immersion… a letting go… a great engulfment with no compass points… and if a voice spoke, I recognized no words. Only emotion—those words of all hearts but no language. How can a heart creak and cry so badly for something so formless… dimensionless… so utterly unknowable?

I ask as one this morning who came up from those depths, and for a moment, it was as if the world was a collection of loose particles… shimmering… taking only the form that I believed I’d find. And so I was back in this place called reality… and for all the waters and waves and lengths of beaches stretching from here to thereafter and the never-ending edges of the map, I was lucky to bring back a song.”

5 Keys to Shooting Photos in a Las Vegas Casino

While most Las Vegas casinos have relaxed their rules about shooting photos, there are still a few rules to follow to avoid an encounter with security staff… or winding up in some back room for “a little chat.” Whether such back rooms still exist, here are five key tips I’ve personally tested in Vegas to shoot photos in a casino.

NEVER SHOOT THE CAGE: This is the biggest rule of all. A casino cashier’s cage is basically a bank that’s jam-packed with money, and that keeps security on hair-trigger alert 24/7. Taking photos of the cage translates as, “I’m casing the place so I can later pull a heist.” This translation may be a bit misguided and outmoded, but shooting the cage amounts to a daredevil move that you don’t want to take.

Don’t Use a Tripod: Unless you’ve been hired by a casino to shoot a TV commercial or promotional video, tripods are an absolute no-no. Tripod legs are a tripping hazard to guests (especially since many of those guests are drunk).

Don’t Use a Flash. Aside from being a distraction and disturbance to gamblers, using a flash is like switching on a big sign that says, “I’m a person violating the rules. Please use your Tasers on me immediately.” Sure, you’ll have to hold your camera rock-steady by hand to even hope for a crisp image… but by playing around with different shooting modes, you should end up with a selection of good images.

Don’t Photograph Guests: Customer privacy is a top priority for Vegas casinos. Guests have come under the idea that “what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas,” and casinos want to protect that expectation as part of the complete Vegas experience. Yes, people will often walk into a shot. That’s practically unavoidable, and won’t be seen as privacy infringement. However, directly photographing guests IS seen as privacy infringement, and if you don’t earn a visit from security, you just might wind up with a hostile guest in your face.

Use a Small Camera: The smaller the camera, the more you’ll go unnoticed, and thankfully, there are many great compact camera options. I used a pocket-friendly Nikon A900 to grab some great shots of the casino at the Aria Resort, and the tilting screen was a BIG help. By holding the camera down at waist height and flipping up the screen, I was able to take some good shots without anyone noticing anything.

For more casino shooting tips, watch the video below to discover what I learned about shooting at places like the Aria Resort & Casino, the Bellagio and even Caesar’s Palace.

The Curtain Rises on Half-World

After a year of work and more cups of coffee than one human being should be allowed to drink, the curtain finally rises on my short video art show called Half-World, and as I reflect on the experiences that brought it all together, it occurs to me that we’ve likely had a similar experience…

…a moment that altered our lives…

…and perhaps it still lingers with you.

Like me, someone may have once told you that you don’t have what it takes… that whatever dream you have, you’re living in a “fantasy world” and you should “get real” because you don’t have the right skills… the right education or enough money.

Maybe like me, you believed them and put your dreams away, and because of that, perhaps you have days when you feel unhappy, frustrated or a bit lost.

If this sounds like you… or even if you’ve only felt this way once or twice… then I think you’ll enjoy Half-World because, at its core, it was created to show you two things:

  • Those “get real” people are wrong.
  • You have everything you need right now to create whatever dream you.

To better illustrate, let me tell you a quick true story about how I created Half-World.

In 2013, I decided to pursue my dream of becoming an artist, and to many, it seemed like a foolish decision at the worst possible time in my life.

  • I didn’t have any special skills.
  • I didn’t have an arts education.
  • I definitely didn’t have any money.

In fact, I had less than no money.

I was out of work. The bills were piling up and the only studio space I could afford was the back of an unheated garage, and believe me. If you’ve never worked in an unheated studio during a Canadian winter, it’s not an experience I would recommend for anyone.

Worse than that, I wanted to create fantasy art, which didn’t exactly promise the fast track to commercial success.

But I had three things:

  • a cheap camera
  • a burning desire
  • the world around me

So I started taking pictures of whatever I found: trees, rocks, flowers, anything. Then I took pieces from those photos and arranged them to create the pictures I wanted.

And I didn’t know whether it would lead anywhere. So I got scared sometimes—especially about the money.

I started thinking about how they used to tell me as a kid, “You can’t make any money in the creative arts. You’d better get real or you’ll die poor and miserable,” and I definitely started thinking they might be right…

…and in a conflicted state of confusion, I lost my way.

Luckily, I had the good fortune of being reminded of something that applies directly to you and whatever you dream of doing.

When you stay focused on the passion and joy of what moves you, the rest eventually takes care of itself, like it did for me. I just focused on creating the best art I could with whatever tools I had around me. That was it.

Then I just put my work out there in the world with no attachment to outcome.

After a while, a few people contacted me to do some freelance work, and I just kept following inspiration until I was soon making a living in the creative arts.

Here’s the point:

Whether you dream of being a singer or an entrepreneur or even an astronaut, if I can do it, you can definitely do it too. That’s the message behind the short 3-minute art video called Half-World.

On the surface, the video (involving over 800 individual image elements) is a trip to a faraway forest, where glimpses of a strange carnival fantasy world come alive inside a mysterious theatre. Yet the video is really about the pieces I found and how I arranged them to create the images.

Those pieces are your reminder that you can also use whatever’s available in your own life to create the world you want to live in, and there’s a reason I called it Half-World.

The name represents a truth…

…that as long as you follow your passion and joy, you’re already halfway to where you want to be.

Enjoy the show. –Xris

Click Here to Enter Half-World

P.S. – For a close-up look at individual images used in the Half-World video, you can check out the exclusive collection of Half-World art at Redbubble.

 


Image Credits

All images (photos, drawings, video clips) are original, copyright © 2017, Xristopher Bland | abmCreative. All rights reserved, with the exception of a few short royalty-free video FX clips used here and there.

Soundtrack Credits

“Elysium” copyright © 2016, Zero. Used and shortened with written permission from the composer per non-commercial use, and licensed under Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 to adapt and share.

“Mother Earth Chant” copyright © 2016, DL Sounds. Usage adheres to all royalty-free usage guidelines.

All Sound Effects are also royalty-free and adhere to all usage guidelines.

Special Thanks

Eternal and tremendous thanks to my partner, muse and fellow Half-World explorer Mary Beth for the continual inspiration, for contributing photographs and accompanying me on countless shoots, for being in the video and for encouraging me to head into the wild where the magic still lives in forgotten places.

Eternal and tremendous thanks to my son and fellow Half-Worlder Nicholas, who showed me the way to Half-World long before I believed such places could exist.

Special thanks to my cat, Majyn, who kept me company every morning while I worked on this video (and “contributed” to the video by jumping on the laptop once or twice).

Special thanks to coffee. Without you, brain no work good.

And extra special thanks to:

  • My mother for trusting me with the ABM name and for her guiding spirit throughout this.
  • Trevor and Emese for letting us housesit at Snelston Maples (featured in the opening and closing of this video).
  • Osie for his friendship and letting us romp around the farm with cameras, from Pond Acres to the Circle of Friends. (And all that awesome pie was pretty sweet too.)
  • That wonderful unknown woman who let me into the O Theatre alone that morning at the Bellagio in Vegas, where I was able to capture some shots of public-display Cirque sculptures that would have been impossible to capture in any other circumstance.
  • Rosewood Farm for being a major backdrop in this video and… well, for just being an amazingly magical place.
  • Friends, family and followers for their encouragement and inspiration along the way, even if they didn’t know they were inspiring me. For every one of the 800-plus elements involved in the making of Half-World, I have 800-plus reasons to be thankful as I move forward to future creative projects and what I might find there.

Zero Releases “Elysium” for Half-World!

Masked orchestral dubstep composer Zero agrees to allow “Elysium” as the soundtrack for “Half-World.”

After weeks of back-and-forth emails with enigmatic musician Zero, I’m absolutely thrilled today to announce that the mysterious orchestral dubstep composer has given me full permission to use his track “Elysium” as the soundtrack for my final “Half-World” art video.

As a blend of violin, driving rock guitar and dubstep, “Elysium” might be described as Lindsey Stirling meets Skrillex. Yet beneath that lies an intricate and subtle layer of woven sound that can only be called Zero. With its hints of Cirque and shades of Epica, “Elysium” so powerfully evokes mystery and passion that I immediately knew it would be the perfect soundtrack choice for “Half-World,” and I’m jazzed that the masked composer gave me permission to his use his track.

Hope everyone had a great weekend! Cheers for now.–Xris

Half-World: The Carnival Poster Show

Freshly minted this morning: The Half-World Carnival Poster Show.

As a promo and prequel video for my upcoming Half-World art video, I tried to create a series of images that capture the kind of posters that carnival promoters used to tack onto telephone poles before the carnival rolled into town.

Overall, the images took about a year to create.

Each image features a character appearing in the final Half-World art video, and I went for a dark, grainy feel to evoke elements of darkness and mystery (à la “Something Wicked This Way Comes”), then mixed in lighter, more fantastical images to balance out the experience.

To segue from one image to the next, I used straight barn-door transitions. I wanted to keep it simple and almost clunky to lend the idea that there might be someone backstage simply sliding the poster panels by hand.

To properly translate the detail and complexity of the images to video, I rendered the video in HD, meaning the video may play with hiccups on some devices.

All images were created as composite images in Photoshop CS3. With the exception of a few elements like the front stage facade and a few light strings (all of which are stock and free-use), and all elements are original.

The opening and closing footage was shot at the now-defunct Candy Factory Studio.

While I appear as different characters in the video, I wasn’t looking to create a glorified selfie. Special thanks and eternal gratitude to my partner Mary Beth for letting me turn her into characters like the Gypsy, the Stormwalker and others, as well as my son Nicholas for appearing as the Sprite and the Wildboy. The Mushroom woman is a stylized picture of a Toronto busker, and some of the other characters are from pictures of Cirque sculptures taken in the lobby of the O Theatre at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas.


Royalty free soundtrack “Deus Ex Machina” by Darren Leigh Purkiss adheres to all usage guidelines.

All images copyright © 2017, Xristopher Bland | abmCreative.

To preview the upcoming Half-World video itself (and see some other goodies), you can always visit my new art digs on Redbubble.

If you missed the Half-World video trailer, you can check it out here.

Enjoy the show. 🙂