Tuesday, October 29, 2013

CLT composer tells cinematic stories without words

Charlotte composer, The Man from RavCon, knows how to tell a story with nary a word. He recently released the album, “Skyscraper,” which takes its listener on a retro adventure in their mind. What’s interesting is he’s not necessarily dictating where that adventure takes place. Sure there are cues like Ennio Morricone spaghetti-western style pieces and a Pink Floydian-like guided tour of space and time on “The Fugitive” (his wife comes up with the titles - a note, which as the wife of an instrumental musician, I adore). But other than the titles, instrumentation, and arrangements there’s no words giving you directions on what to think.

For me “Cloud Teaser” with its swishes phasing in and out in the background sounds like a sci-fi superhero theme from the `70s (it could be my “Flash Gordon” love kicking in). When I hear opening track “The Balloon” I'm following a cartoon character (say, a duck) through some simple tasks like going to the airport and getting on a plane, buying milk at the grocery store. It's childlike and playful. Maybe it's just my visual mind, but I enjoy that sort of escape.

Instrumental music is an interesting animal. There are some highly successful acts now like Explosions in the Sky, but that success is still the exception to the rule. My husband’s family often asks him why his band has no vocals. I think there are people out there that don’t see the point without vocals, but living with an instrumental musician I’ve grown to appreciate the space instrumental music creates and the imagination it fosters. You can listen and paint your own picture, build your own storyline in your mind. The Man From RavCon fills some of those colors in for us without cluttering the page. On a side note the Tyler Strouth's cover art reminds me of "Metropolis," which may help nudge along that sci-fi aspect in my mind when I'm listening to the record.

There’s certainly mystery in The Man From RavCon’s compositions. The Man himself is actually Charlotte native Mike Brown, who played in a band called the Ravelers until 2004. Brown assumed the identity of The Man From RavCon in 2010 and began releasing records. “Skyscraper” is his sixth. He doesn’t perform it live, instead focusing on recording soundtrack-ready music that often draws on vintage cinema and cinematic-sounding bands like the Moody Blues and Pink Floyd.

“I don't usually have images when I compose the songs, though I usually come up with the initial ideas while sitting on the couch with a guitar and watching old cult films with the sound turned down,” explains Brown, who, along with his wife Peggy, pairs some of his music with old movie footage, like the “Trip To the Morgue” above. The song appears as a bonus track on the CD version of “Skyscraper.” It’s also pretty appropriate for Halloween week. 

“The videos are really determined by the feel I get from the tune after it's completed, and also depend on what Public Domain footage I can find to match with that mood,” Brown says. Another clip for “The Fugitive” is online as well here.

Brown adds: “I've always enjoyed instrumental music and cult films. I get a lot of enjoyment out of creating moods and images without lyrics. I feel sometimes that lyrics are just an afterthought thrown onto a good tune just because people expect to hear someone telling them what to think.”

As for not playing them live he says: “I enjoy recording more than I ever enjoyed live performances. I can continuously create new music without having to rehearse it over and over again just to play it over and over again live. With modern technology, I really have no need for a band, and I find I can get things done a lot easier this way. Besides, as I've grown older, my tolerance for hanging out in bars has thinned considerably.”

Check out more on The Man from RavCon here