The work of Mike Varley

Mike Varley’s Top Five Videos of 2011

December 30th, 2011 by admin

For those of you in touch with my YouTube page or my sporadic Facebook updates, you may have noticed over the past couple of years that I’ve developed a liking for the video medium.  With a few exceptions, every video I make is a document of something that happened in my life, edited and manipulated to varying degrees as the essence of the moment dictates.  Some events have their cores revealed in a single, static frame.  Others might need editing, scoring or narration to get at their significance.  But, whatever their level of manipulation, I’d consider all of the following five videos – with one notable exception – to be not only non-fiction, but autobiographical.  Why this is important I can’t say in so few lines, but I sense it is because it adds a layer of reality so often neglected in this medium.

So here it is, then: 5 home movies with a pulse.


5. LCD Soundsystem, “All My Friends”

On March 28th 2011, LCD Soundsystem played the first in a series of four send off concerts at Terminal 5 in New York City and I was fortunate enough to get tickets.  My friends Gessie, Cynthia and Allison had gotten there before me and staked out a spot on the second level, which had a bar top perfect for setting a camera on.  I was able to capture over half the concert before the battery died, and this was my favorite shot of the bunch.  From the early shaking of the camera caused by dancing to the progressively crazier lighting effects distorted by the camera – with the energy of the crowd matching the energy of lead singer James Murphy – and the sunburst conclusion timing with the flying hat trick perfectly, it all amounts to my favorite of all my concert recordings.


4. Crest Hardware Art Show and Crest Fest

This is a hybrid piece, combining a concert recording with documentation of Crest Fest, an art show I was in over the summer.  Crest Fest is unique in that it takes place entirely in an active hardware store, with all the pieces hardware themed in some capacity.  Beginning at :57, you’ll see my piece, “Our Electric Tethers”.  You can watch footage showing the creation of the piece herehere, and here.

The band playing is The Suzan, an all-girl Japanese group that headlined the show’s opening day. I only recorded one song with the intention of editing to it and was extremely lucky to get this one.  The break down in the middle, with its progressively accelerating beat, was the perfect way to capture the sheer mass and variety of work on display.  Be sure to watch to the end for an easter egg involving the transport of “Our Electric Tethers.”


3. Hydrofracking New York: Energy Independence

This video is the one exception noted above, as it does not involve footage taken from my actual life.  It does feel strongly autobiographical to me, however, as it’s purely a passion project, not commissioned or created with any expected net gain beyond the hope of generating awareness.  Taken as a whole, the six part series “Hydrofracking New York: From One New Yorker to Another” is my most successful venture of the year, but its parts are not as strong as the two videos ranked higher.

The thing I am happiest about with this work is the manner it approaches the proposed positives of hydrofracking, job creation and energy independence.  I was conscious to keep the language neutral while presenting the facts, and I believe the result is more powerful than a biased account.  I’ve posted the piece on energy independence, but I’d recommend watching the whole series. At about twenty minutes, it runs fast and is very informative.


2. “Night Driver” – The Queen/Mob Demos

Back in May, some friends and I spent a weekend out on Long Island visiting Caumsett park and camping in a giant, 14-person tent.  Into that tent we piped music and lasers, and once I started recording it turned into the set of a music video.  The peculiarities of my camera’s low light performance paired with the contour-hugging qualities of the laser create a recording that eliminated the flesh but kept the form.

I carried the footage around for a few months before I finally paired it to a song: one of the demos from my band, Queen/Mob.  That’s Cindy Shaoul and Darin Quan on vocals.  The three of us got together and made the song from a melody that was in my head for awhile.  The pairing was unintended but works flawlessly.


1. On Osama Bin Laden, 2011

I had just come back from getting ice cream with friends when someone received a text with news about Osama Bin Laden.  We turned on the TV and watched the scene going on at Ground Zero.  It all felt so surreal, and I was moved by the enormity of the moment to go see it for myself.

The film you see is my understanding of the scene, too complicated for straight description.  I made it in a whirlwind four days, hastily editing, scoring and writing narration in the name of being topical.  For the curious, I scored the piece first, then watched the footage and wrote to the pace of the music, keeping in mind gaps for the video to take prominence.  The result of this frenetic pace was exhaustion and minimal exposure, but a piece I’m exceedingly proud of.

The end dedication is for Kevin Cosgrove, an uncle, brother, father, and son from our family who died in the September 11th attacks.


That’s all for this year’s top five videos.  Thanks for watching and keep your eyes out on my channel and for more in 2012!

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