Tag Archives: music

Celebrating Ten Consecutive Weekly Film Releases

June 15, 2020

Culture and Society

It’s been a while since I have posted on this blog, and I have a valid reason. On Easter weekend last April, I was asked by some friends to film a mask giveaway in the square of a neighboring town from where I live. I spent an entire afternoon filming someone dressed as a hybrid of Uncle Sam and the Easter Bunny giving out free masks. Within 24 hours, I had the film completely edited with music and ready to launch on Youtube.

This got me thinking long term about what I wanted to start making from a creative standpoint. I graduated from film school back in December of last year (2019) only to end up, much like the rest of the world, in a quagmire of uncertainty in the wake of the Corona virus pandemic. I had freelance film projects either delayed or canceled as a result and an entire film and entertainment industry indefinitely put on hold.

I also understand fully that a college degree in my field does not automatically make me an expert. So, with the mask giveaway project as a template, I decided to start creating and releasing a film every week as a way to keep developing my skills and nurture my own creativity. This involves developing project ideas, gathering materials, film production and editing, audio recording and editing, music, and promotion.

Phew! Did you catch all of that? Well, for the last 10 weeks since Easter, this is what I’ve been doing. I have released 10 short films in ten weeks. By now, I’ve gotten to a place in which I have somewhat of a routine and process in place, but it has been far from smooth and easy.

Some days, it’s been difficult to get motivated, and in a lot of other ways, being quarantined at home has been largely prohibitive in terms of collaborating with other folks and filming at public locations.

So, I’ve been improvising as much as I can using my magical home in the woods, along with my musical and visual art skills.

Here is a quick recap of the 10 film releases I have carried out thus far:

  1. Got Mask? Easter Giveaway

    Filmed on the Friday of Easter weekend, Uncle Sam gave away hundreds of masks that he handmade at home. This is a colorful adventure on a warm and sunny afternoon. I was proud to document this act of kindness and generosity.

2. Ami and the Ivy

This film was a project that I filmed and directed in August of 2019. Because of my insanely hectic final semester of college, I did not finish editing it until February of this year. The pStyle company contacted me about filming some sort of promotional film for its product. We talked for a while about different possibilities, and after a truly enjoyable collaborative process, we ended up with a sweet little film.

3. Love Ever After

This 30-second short film was actually an assignment for a class back in college a year ago. It was buried deep in my portable hard drive I used for school and left totally ignored all this time. I had always loved this piece and decided it needed a proper place in the world. So, I gave it a thorough dusting and recorded new music for it on my vibraphone. Love springs eternal here . . .

4. A Little Red Bracelet

In August of last year (2019), I decided to fulfill a bucket list item by visiting the US National Holocaust Memorial Museum while I was in Washington, DC, on some business. What had intended to be a two or three hour visit stretched out for an entire day until the museum closed. I have read books and watched movies about the holocaust, but this museum gave me even more insight into the countless untold stories and horrors that Hollywood and popular culture have not shared fully. It was sobering and so immensely sad. Just before I left the place, I bought a little red bracelet that I wear to this day. It’s a small reminder of the sheer devastation and brutality that humans are capable of and the delicate nature of the privileges we all have, by varying degrees, throughout our lives. I composed the piano piece for this, and the recording I used was the first take. I love how this one turned out:

5. The Gardener: A Mother’s Day Tribute

Within my repertoire of original songs, I have one that I wrote specifically for my mom. She is a lifelong gardener, and I’ve always felt that it was the perfect metaphor for how she has cared for my family and I all of my life. This is something I’ve always wanted to do, and there is no time like the present. I enjoyed secretly filming her garden. She thought I was just taking pictures and had no idea what I was up to. I guess this film is as much about my mom as it is about a momma’s boy.

6. She Cares for Her

This is another project I made for a production class a year ago. It originally had more to do with creating a sense of place through the use of sound. One of my best friends happened to have a wonderful horse on the new farm she and her husband just purchased, and they graciously let me film Isabella on an unseasonably warm winter day. Horses are, without a doubt, magnificent creatures. (Every time I see one in my rural neighborhood, I have to stop and stare.) I originally intended for this to be a meditation on the ways by which humans and animals interact and how they actually care for each other in subtle and tender ways. I wanted to stay true to that intention. This final version includes spoken word poetry and my a capella singing. Animals, by my estimation, are far more aware and generous than we will ever understand.

7. The Other Foot

When it comes to self-expression, I have always believed that I should be wary of censoring myself, particularly if shame is the deeper culprit. When I first mulled over the idea for The Other Foot, I felt a bit embarrassed by it all. I took that as a reason to proceed. I look at this project as my first major pivot in this weekly film series—going from thoughtful and poetic to comedic and crass in one fell swoop, with one or two sexual overtones for good measure. I thought of simply using sock puppets, but that didn’t interest me so much. Using my own feet solved some practical issues since I was doing all of this myself. I could operate the camera and film my feet simultaneously for most of it. I wasn’t sure how the toe socks would translate, but from the minute I filmed the first take (which was the multi-colored “Ranch” character), I loved it. It was much more adorable than I could have imagined, and I don’t even actually have a foot fetish! For better or worse, here is what I consider the pilot episode. There will be more to come.

8. The Other Foot: Behind the Scenes Featurette

The insanity of The Other Foot did not end with the pilot. I decided that I wanted to develop the idea even further and create a sort of imagined “behind the scenes” look at the truth behind the show. I wanted to explore the idea of what it means to be exploited, regardless of the intention or the result. A little bit of a back story is always a good thing.

9. Carriage

At my core, I am a musician—a singer and pianist to be specific. “Carriage” marks another pivot in my creative output. To be honest, I am not particularly fond of seeing myself onscreen. I generally cringe and look away. I took this as a sign that I should do it, and with all of the protests and pain surrounding the thoughtless death of George Floyd (among many others), I wanted to infuse the world with a meditation on healing. This song and video offers no grand solutions. It simply paints a picture of what it means to deal with and live with pain and trauma. This song grows from experiences and truths in my own life. I decided to forego my piano playing for this song and chose to use a delicate and lilting mandolin for accompaniment. It served up the dosage of gentleness that I wanted.

10. Art in Creation: Sunshine Flower

Here it is—my most recent release as of this posting! I am always curious about how artists create their work and what that looks like. I decided to make an art piece of my own and document the creation for this film. It starts from a blank page and evolves fromthere. The inclusion of the song “You Are My Sunshine” was always part of the plan. I was originally going to record a version of it myself, but my friend Billy Kemp, a touring musician who lives in my neighborhood, was coming by to hang out outside on our deck. I had the idea to ask if he would be willing to play and sing along with me if I recorded it on my porch. Thankfully, he loved the idea. MaxZine had his mandolin, and you can hear the result in this film. At the moment, I don’t know what to do with the “Sunshine Flower” art piece I created, but I’m open to ideas . . .

There it is folks. 10 films released consecutively in 10 weeks. I feel proud and a bit exhausted just thinking about it. What I haven’t shared with the world is that I have a long-term goal of making 100 of them.

Yes, as in ONE HUNDRED of them in total.

That means I have ninety more to go.

If you have a minute to throw me some encouragement during this daunting challenge, I will gladly take it.

Thank you for watching my films and for following along on my creative journey.

There is so much more that I have to give.


Staying Home Update #1

March 23, 2020

Culture and Society

I am currently one among millions of people around the world staying home right now to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. This week and at various intervals over the next couple of months, I want to share my experiences while the world waits for this pandemic to pass.

For the record, I have always been an introvert at my core. I see this time as an opportunity to return to my inward-facing roots, despite having been a performing musician and college student. The timing of this call to shelter at home is actually quite fitting at this stage of my life. Last December (a mere three months ago or so), I graduated from college. I earned a degree in Video and Film Production from Middle Tennessee State University. This means that I’ve been repeatedly asking myself the question “Okay, what now?” ever since and wondering if my degree will basically be useless as we sift through the carnage of this unprecedented pandemic.

Well, for the next few weeks of self-isolation, I have more time to think about my future and how I can apply what I learned in college toward work that earns an income but also feels creatively fulfilling. That’s been on my mind a lot. I’ve been journaling a bit, staring out at the forest that beckons beyond the wrap-around deck of my woodland home, and mostly dreaming. I take a bunch of photos on my DSLR camera as well as edit a couple of film projects I’ve been working on. I am thankful that I now have the time to ruminate.

I also had to cancel a couple of out-to-town trips I had been planning for a while—one to celebrate a dear friend’s birthday and another to film a music video. I’m hoping to carry on with both prospects eventually.

Otherwise, I’ve been neglecting my Netflix feed in favor of books. So far this year, I have read twelve books. I wonder if that makes me a bad filmmaker if I’d rather read a book than watch a movie. So be it, I suppose.

Since I am not able to actually go to a library at the moment, I’ve been using my active free memberships to three different library systems. Here in Middle Tennessee, that would be Davidson County/Nashville, Rutherford County/Murfreesboro, and Cannon County/Woodbury. Their digital collections can be accessed both online and through an app on my phone. I hunt for books that I want to read on all three systems, and I am able to get what I want pretty easily. Did I mention that all of this is free? (Eat your heart out, Netflix monthly fee!! MINERVA!!)

Over the last few days, I’ve also been trying to engage in activities that reduce anxiety AF. The looming threat of contracting a lethal virus that has already killed THOUSANDS of people is kind of wigging me out. So, what does that look like? Pacifist bullet points please . . .

  • Cat cuddling. Yup, you read that right. No, I am not part of the furry community, and I marginally don’t believe that cats are supremely superior over all other species. I simply just LOVE TO CUDDLE WITH THEM SO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!! So. Damn. Much. UUUGGHH . . . Now, it doesn’t help that my cat Steinway is extremely affectionate and likes to plop on my face when I sleep at night. It also doesn’t help that we have 4 cats who live with us. Ugh. UUUGGGHHH!!!
  • I play solitaire. Left-handed (of course!) and with an actual deck of cards AF. There is something strangely calming about this game even though I legit lose 99.99999999% of the time. Okay, so I’m pretty terrible at it (obvs), but it’s one of the most zen-like and calming activities I’ve ever come across. The physical act of laying the cards down and slowly contemplating each option and move is strangely relaxing. Who knew?
  • I play music. Specifically, on the piano, cello, and ukulele. I play piano the most, but I practice on the other two as often as I can. Playing music is my emotional-release valve. I can sit at my piano, sing my heart out, and let my feelings wash all over me. It’s important to have an outlet like this, and this is mine. I mostly sing as I play and run through the catalog of original songs that I have written. This heals my spirit in times like these.
  • Staying in touch with friends and family. (AKA Making sure my people are ok). This involves lots of text messaging and phone calls, but I’m about to use Zoom a whole heck of a lot AF! In lieu of actually seeing friends and loved ones in person, this is the next best thing.

There are other activities like knitting, self-care, exercise, and secretly devouring a whole tub of peanut butter AF, but the four bulleted ones are among the most prominent.

Incidentally AF, what am I trying NOT to do while I am self-imprisoning? Again, non-violent bullet points please . . .

  • Endlessly scrolling through my Facebook and Instagram feeds. I already have a love/hate relationship with social media. I see them as our modern-day Big Brother. They are so darn addictive, and that bothers me. So yeah, trying (and sometimes failing) to NOT do that.
  • Become consumed over my anxiety about the coronavirus. This is a tough one. Not only do I want to avoid dying a painful death all alone in a hospital, but I also fear for my elderly loved-ones and friends. I’m trying to stay calm, but this is difficult.
  • Become obsessed with productivity. Prior to graduating, I worked my smooth Asian ass off!! I attended every class and aced virtually everything. (Not to brag of course, but I earned every damn A that I got.) Ultimately though, I payed a heavy price for this. My social life and valuable connections with friends tanked, and I became overly preoccupied with being productive ALL OF THE TIME AF. This isn’t healthy because there is immense value in chillaxing and doing nothing whenever possible. I missed out on a lot of chillaxing and fun in college, and now, I make it an intention every day to have time to take naps, stare at my foot, or literally do absolutely nothing at all. Yup.

Well, that’s my life so far as I am at the beginning stages of my stay-at-home-self-sheltering-try-not-to-die-of-the-plague stupor. I hope you find your own way through these uncertain times. Take a moment to be thankful for your health and for the privilege of having a boring afternoon. Sadly, some of us do not have that luxury any more.

Until the next update, cuddle away!!


Roqué Recommends: Summer Music Playlist

June 16, 2019

Culture and Society / Roque Recommends

This week, I wanted to share some of the music that I have been getting into over the last couple of months.

Call me old school, but I still enjoy full albums from artists. These days, everything centers around releases of singles. The market for music is so crowded that it is easier for one song from an artist to break through than a whole album. The huge decline in album sales over the last decade has been a significant factor. The music business is a business after all, and when the bottom line suffers, change becomes imminent. The world of streaming in which the average music enthusiast curates their own musical listening experience is the new normal.

Well, here at Tropical Shade of Green, the album still gets all of the love. I appreciate the time and thoughtfulness an artist invests in creating a full-bodied artistic statement. Every song is a facet of a complete creative vision. These are the kinds of works that I feast over.

Here are my music recommendations for Summer 2019. All three of the following albums are masterpieces that make resounding, uncompromising, and powerful statements.

  1. Madonna: Madame X

This past Friday, June 14, 2019, was commonly regarded by Madonna fans the world over as “Madame X” Day. As a long time fan of her work, I would be remiss not to recommend the bold and masterful new album that she just unleashed. Madame X is the persona who inhabits the universe in which the songs in this collection exist. She is a spy who travels around the world living multiple lives and spreading her own subversive manifesto of love and freedom.

What makes this album so unique is its experimental nature. The music literally takes unexpected, and often abrupt, changes in tempo and style. Madonna raps, uses vocodor distortion on her voice, and once in a while lets her natural vocals soar into tender moments of vulnerability. For example, there is a song sung completely in Portuguese and another one that uses a children’s choir backed up by a magnificent and euphoric disco inferno of Madonna’s own conjuring (see below to press play).

The words “weird” and “bizarre” have been used by major news outlets to describe this album. I personally would take that as a compliment, but clearly, they missed the memo that this album is political and defiant. It creates its own unconventional sonic landscape to make its perspectives clear. This album is a portrait of an established and iconic artist who has nothing more to prove but is taking enormous creative leaps and risks in her work.

Above all, Madame X has a complete work is beautiful. It feels like a journey to colorful and exotic places infused with modern production, SICK beats, and the emotions of a woman who has found her own way. Get a beverage of your choosing. Finding a quiet place. Listen to this album all the way through. Take in every subtle nuance and drastic turn, one glistening and magical layer at a time.

Here is one of several standout tracks from Madame X. Give it a minute to let it break its own ground at the beginning. If you happen to be standing on a dancefloor, it won’t be long until you are skybound into this piece of disco heaven . . .

Here is the video to one of the recent singles released from this album. It is a retelling of the Joan of Arc story portrayed by a queer, trans-identified, openly HIV-positive, African American rapper name Mykki Blanco. As a film, this is quite striking . . .

2. Kishi Bashi: Omoiyari

I am relatively new to the music of Kishi Bashi, but I was instantly mesmerized when I saw him perform at a show at the Basement East in Nashville a couple of years ago. His work is stunning, and this album lives up to his growing legacy of elegant pop music layered in textures of strong melodies and evocative arrangements. Along with a lovely and soothing voice, Kishi Bashi is a multi-instrumentalist and composer. His live shows are more than worth the price of admission.

This new album delves deep into an unsettling period in US history. Its songs are meditations on the unjust internment of Japanese immigrants during World War II by the US government. Thousands of them, including whole families and children, were kept in concentration camps against their will for periods of up to five years. The precedent that this created has paved the way for the numerous detention centers housing thousands of immigrants indefinitely all over the US today.

This album is gorgeous. With its references to such a unforgivable period in history, the music itself is light, airy, and even whimsical at times. You would expect a more heavy-handed and angry expression, but Bashi imbues this album with a softness and delicacy that invites thoughtful introspection. There is a subtle and quiet sense of mourning that colors each song. It is refreshing that no guns are blazing and no indictments are made. Sweeping melodies and harmonies lift up the courage and resilience of the people who were interred. This music is a testament to their strength.

Here is a lovely track and video from the album called “Violin Tsunami” . . .

3. Sara Bareilles: Amidst the Chaos

I have been a casual fan of Sara Bareilles for a while. The tone of her singing voice is among my favorites of the many occupying our music landscape at the moment. The songs on her newest offering really caught my attention.

Here new album Amidst the Chaos is largely a reaction to the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election and her grief at losing Barack Obama as President. A sense of loss and a gritty struggle to maintain composure in a time of unrest are palpable themes in the music. The songs are confessional and intimate. This work feels less like a pop album and more like a hard but necessary and emotional conversation.

The lyrics are poignant and strong, and more than any other instant that I can remember, Bareilles vocals absolutely soar. If there was ever any doubt that she could really sing, this album would violently shut up the haters. The beauty of it is that she’s not over-singing or trying to impress anyone. There is an understatement that serves each song perfectly and fully.

Here is a live performance of one of the album’s standout tracks called “Saint Honesty”. I love this song. (In case you’re wondering, the album version is just as good.)

These three albums sustain a depth and vision that have clearly been refined and honed with the greatest effort. I want to honor the work of these incredible artists by inviting you to enjoy what they have created.

Find Madonna, Kishi Bashi, and Sara Bareilles on the streaming platform of your choice and enjoy the bountiful feasts they have spread before us.

They will give you a nourishing that will feed your soul and sustain your spirit.