To describe Owen Pallett is to delve into an exploration of imagination, artistic ability and terminal dissatisfaction. After scoring a video game, three movies and an opera by the age of 21, the artist familiar to music aficionados as one man voice/violinist Final Fantasy released the latest in what he refers to as “a perpetual motion machine” this past May. The album, He Poos Clouds, was born out of impossible-to-reach standards that acknowledge inherent imperfection.
“You could say it is a bit of a dissatisfaction, and I find that sort of exciting,” he says over the phone. “I mean, the part of what I’m interested in would be the flawed-ness of it.”
His second effort as Final Fantasy was assembled with the purpose of writing an album based on three tenants: a set of songs attempting to modernize each of the eight Dungeons & Dragons schools of magic, writing every song for string quartet and voice and releasing a record that would keep anyone who listened to it from ever contemplating suicide.
“I thought it was funny. There are a lot of concept albums being made these days, and sometimes they’re about frivolous concepts and sometimes they’re about hilarious ones,” says Pallett. “But to me the concept album is very interesting. And with my new record, I set impossibly high goals for myself with the acknowledgement they can’t be reached, but found out what interesting shapes come out of setting the bar so high.”
The album, merging keyboards, classical mechanics played by a string quartet and Pallett’s delicate vocals, stands as a metaphor for human predispositions towards the earnest and unattainable. The lyrics are sharp-witted, pointing to Pallett’s fascination with the ugly.
“You can’t make a pop album for string quartet and voice. You can’t actually make an album about Dungeons & Dragons and really have it work, and have everyone understand what you’re talking about,” he says. “Or can you really expect people to be all that interested in it to begin with? It’s entirely ridiculous.”
Written while sequestered in Barcelona at the conclusion of a tour, Pallett was inspired by music integrating MIDI electronic sounds, which influenced the unique final product.
“There’s a huge tradition of using MIDI in pop music, but it’s never really been as thoroughly embraced as the past few years by most notably, in my record collection, Kevin Blechdom, who is an electronic artist from San Francisco who moved to Berlin and he made this album called Eat My Heart Out that’s all MIDI and simming, it’s fantastic,” he says. “People don’t use orchestras in recording anymore because they’re expensive and they’re hard to write for. Usually people will fall back on these kind of orchestral cliches. But then you hear these people making MIDI albums, and they’re basically making this fake orchestral music (by) totally inventing all these new techniques and things you can do with an orchestral sound.”
In recognition of his work’s artistic merit, Pallet was awarded the inaugural Polaris Music Prize for writing the year’s best record without regard to genre or record sales. In a surprising move, he elected to distribute the $20,000 prize to others he felt deserving.
“The only sorta issue I had with the Polaris Prize was the funding from Rogers Wireless. And I’m not trying to rain on anyone’s parade at all, I think it’s a really wonderful award, but I do have mixed feelings about accepting award money from kind of a manipulative corporate sponsor, so I’m giving the money away,” says Pallett. “I’m giving $5,000 to my boyfriend to pay off his student loan, I gave $6,000 to the recording collective that releases all my music, I gave $4,000 to the string quartet who played on the album… And I gave $5,000 to Leon who recorded the record. He spends most of his time recording records in Toronto for free, so he can really use that money as well.”
Final Fantasy’s aims in delegating the money are, like the rationale for his selection for the Polaris Prize, entirely altruistic.
“I am telling people what I am doing with it not because I want a round of applause,” says Pallett. “But hopefully it a precedent that will keep happening.”
Final fantasy, November 18 at St. matthew’s United church, barrington at spring garden, $12 adv/$15 door, 8pm, www.ticketpro.ca