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Owen Pallett
Owen Pallett. Photo by KC Armstrong

Experiments with Violin

Faculty of Music graduate, Owen Pallett, composes new rules for classical music

Today Owen Pallett (BMus 2002) is one of the hottest composers and performers on Canada’s independent music scene, but growing up in Milton, Ontario, he played all classical all the time. “I used to get into fights with my classmates because they wanted to listen to stuff like Def Leppard,” says Pallett, 26.

He started violin lessons at three, began composing at 13 and was an accomplished violinist when he arrived at U of T’s Faculty of Music in 1998. But, confronted by his classmates’ superior musicianship and his instructors’ tough love, he began practising for as long as five hours a day to improve his playing.

By fourth year, Pallett had turned away from the strict rules of classical music and found a home in Toronto’s indie music scene. “It had a much more accidental approach to making music, which really appealed to me,” he says. Since then, he has collaborated with Toronto acts the Hidden Cameras and Jim Guthrie and Montreal’s Juno Award-winning Arcade Fire.

A musical experiment at a benefit concert at Sneaky Dee’s in downtown Toronto in 2004 led to a technical breakthrough for Pallett: he plugged his violin into a sampling unit controlled by a foot pedal – which allowed him to play violin lines, record them, play them back and layer them with his live playing and singing. He used this technique while recording his first solo album, Has a Good Home, in 2005, under the moniker Final Fantasy.

Pallett’s second solo album, He Poos Clouds, is based on Dungeons & Dragons’ eight schools of magic. The songs combine seemingly random lyrics and occasionally manic vocals with meticulous composition. The effect is “a hilarious record,” he says. “I hope people don’t take it too seriously.”

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