‘Chasing The Path’ with Greg Harrison

Category: music 304

Chasing The Path is Harrison’s eleventh dance commission, his third with choreographer Hanna Kiel and one of his most ambitious projects to date.

Matt Carter

Greg Harrison’s latest recorded effort, Chasing The Path, was commissioned by Toronto choreographer Hanna Kiel as a sound design for a March 2018 performance at DanceWorks Toronto. Investigating themes of memory – both positive and negative – Harrison worked closely with Kiel to create a sonic landscape that not only supported the conceptual ideas, but also the movement on stage.

“Hanna and I had many conversations leading up to the creation process and continued the dialogue up until opening night,” said Harrison. “We were both curious about treating the music more like a film score with an overarching theme and individual character themes. Hanna was great with giving me a lot of artistic freedom.”

Harrison is no stranger to composition. Over the past four years, the Fredericton-born percussionist has composed various pieces of music for dance and film while also composing and arranging original music for marimba. But despite his growing confidence as a sound designer and composer, this recent project wasn’t without its challenges.

“The challenging parts that arose weren’t really a musical issue, but more of an issue with the pairing with dance,” said Harrison. “There’s a fine balance of connecting the two. I see the dance as music – it takes up space just as music does – so they really have to work together and influence one another.

“A lot of the creation process was finding the appropriate palette to work with. In the performance, the stage (set as a living room) transforms through various eras which highlight each individual dancer with the emphasis being on the room and the memories which remain there,” he said. “Instead of incorporating the stylistic characteristics of those particular eras into the piece, I decided to take a different route and treat the various stages via manipulation and degradation.”

Harrison cites sound designer Richard King’s work on Christopher Nolan’s 2010 film Inception for helping to inspire his direction for Chasing The Path.

“I wanted to start from a quite ‘pure’ acoustic space by featuring the piano, cello, glockenspiel, music box and organ,” he said. “Those instruments became the nucleus of the piece until hints of metallic and industrial instruments and electronics are introduced.”

To create these elements, Harrison dug deep into his own collection of instruments and called upon a few friends to contribute additional tones.

“I played the majority of the instruments on the album including piano, percussion, synths, effects pedals and organ,” he said. “I recorded and mixed it at my home studio and had it mastered by the amazing Denis Martin in Montreal. I had Amahl Arulanandam (VC2) on cello and my good bud Alex Kotyk (b=d) on double bass.”

As a standalone collection of compositions, Chasing The Path covers a wide spectrum of emotion and mood with Harrison appearing to explore both the project guidelines as well as the limits of his own creativity. Each track has the integrity to stand on its own while also contributing momentum to a larger theme.

Harrison.

“I was curious how to evoke different types of memory with each movement through sound design,” said Harrison. “The first track, Chasing the Path, sets up the mood and thematic motif which will pop in an out of the entire work. Debut Sea was about exploring auditory memory. In this case I used some samples of the Claude Debussy piano works and wrote a piece around that.”

Through the subsequent tracks, Harrison created instruments using metal piping and stacked sheets of metal, sampled various recordings and added texture through assorted methods of digital processing.

“I wanted to play with perseverating pulsating sounds that continuously morph and reshape itself,” said Harrison. “I wanted to explore introducing uncomfortable sounds and gradually build some emotional context around them. I guess this was a way for me and the audience to ‘make sense’ of the chaos. It was really fun watching the audience during this part!

“The choreography called for a strong rhythmic section in the work, and that’s how Track-ing became. I found an album last year of ‘field recorded’ steam trains. I sampled that, and created the percussion tracks from hitting and sampling a filing cabinet and a metallic utensil tray. I added some samples from an old session for prepared piano to help shape the piece. I think it’s the most ‘metal’ track I’ve ever composed.”

Chasing The Path is Harrison’s eleventh dance commission, and his third with choreographer Hanna Kiel. His debut percussion album received national acclaim and was selected as one of CBC’s Top Classical Albums of 2015. Through his eclectic and emerging career, that includes everything from stints with Cirque Du Soleil to Fred Penner, Harrison is now becoming an in-demand composer and arranger for the performance stage.   

“It’s an avenue I didn’t even really consider but sort of fell into place in the past few years,” he said. “I’ve been accompanying for contemporary dance classes for about six or seven years and made connections that way. This type of work really interests me. It’s an environment where I can fully explore, experiment, question, fail, build and deconstruct things. I feel like I learn so much with each process, which makes me more confident and eager for the next one.”

Chasing The Path was released as a digital download on April 24.

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