Jack Harris is currently undertaking the Heterotic II residency here at Primary, this post document his experiences over the second week of the residency.

The Heterotic II residency is a partnership between Eastside Projects and Primary that offers an artist based in the West Midlands the chance to test and develop new work and ideas and develop networks and professional connections across the Midlands. The residency is funded by Turning Point West Midlands and is the third in a series of residencies designed to give practitioners based in the West Midlands the opportunity to spend time working elsewhere.

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In search of something more than resonance

In the last blogpost that I wrote here, reflecting on my first week in residence at PRIMARY, I spoke about a series of improvisational activities aimed at making a slow and resonant music, maybe even something best described as ambient. I’d thought about titling the post ‘in search of resonance’, but didn’t. If I were to title the activities of the second week, then I’d want to call them ‘in search of something more’.

In 2011 I undertook a residency in Northern Ireland with collaborator Samuel Rodgers at Bill Drummond’s Curfew Tower, again supported by Eastside Projects. The compositional activity that occupied me at the time was an investigation of movement and narrative within music. I was attempting to mitigate a sense of propulsive, forward-facing, and cheap-feeling movement that I perceived in the operation of much music, and to find alternatives that were more complex and rewarding. This propulsive sense of movement, I concluded, was the result of a situation where it is the relationship between individual sound materials (pitches, rhythms, audible sounds), and the movement between these materials, that formed the basis of operation. That is to say, autonomy wasn’t given to any singular pitch, but instead a sonic meaning was formed from the movement from one sound to the next, producing melody, motif, direction etc. This language of movement is a codified language, and one that warrants codified responses from our sensing selves. It is a language that mimics, if not derives from, the same narrative impulses of Christianity and Capitalism, maybe. (In that the experience here is of a Grand Narrative, of a push towards the climax, which might be read as salvation or riches). In place of this language, I sought a non-dialectic operation of sound-materials, and I took my analogy from the operation of elements within environmental (particular bucolic) soundscapes. This led to a music of stasis, of moments of long focus on individual materials and textures (each with innumerable amounts of inner detail), that gradually shifted and drifted into new moments in the manner of a circadian shift from day to night.

Compositionally, my conceptual and theoretical desires found an actual voice within that residency in Northern Ireland, and a recording of that music is soon to be released on Cathnor Recordings. This recording progresses slowly and quietly, offering sounds up, in resonance, in focus, slowly emerging, often inaudibly until they seem like they were always there, before they steadily shift, drift, and fall away or into other sound worlds. It’s a music of starkness but also of richness, a richness within the materials, and in taking time, a richness in stopping, and of stasis.

When closer to the doubt of a subject, and when time is closer to a subject’s moment of discovery and the attempt to understand that subject, the keenest with which that subject is pursued is fiercer, the feeling of importance is stronger, and the detail of investigation greater. With time, the ideas and passions are folded into ways of working and become normalised and generalised – affecting core outlook and strategies, but in a silent way, not having the anger of fresh enquiry, and also becoming more open in not being so close to that anger – they are embedded.

If those impulses had found solid voice in a previous residency, then the first week of this residency saw that voice resolved. The music was exactly what I wanted, it had met the criteria set for it within those enquiries. I pursued it in a calm and gentle manner, already knowing its means of production, the processes I needed to enact, and what it might sound like, just having to undertake the activity once more in order to confirm for myself my conclusions, and in doing so producing the typical, maybe finalised, version of what I had hoped to produce.

As such, the second week meant a week where I could move towards new endeavours, at least on the surface level, safe in the knowledge that these forms and processes, these desires to generate a formal operation that met the conceptual and musical criteria I had set for it, were embedded deep within my processes and aesthetic, and of a strong enough presence to be both certain and open to change. Playing again with collaborator Samuel Rodgers – our music was inherently influenced by the above – but a fresh voice was emerging, and new lines of enquiry that didn’t replace but built upon previous lines were airing their voices. This is the process of development necessary to keep both the music, and the making of that music, interesting and vibrant.

I’ll be playing in that older style again, as one-half of a concert I’ll be presenting to conclude my final part in residence at Primary on October 30th. I’ll be doing this because these endeavours still interests me in their pure form, and having reached what feels like a point of conclusion, sharing such seems apt, even if it won’t feel as important to me as it once did. I feel that it is time, however, to move forward, in search of something more, and when I return to Primary in late October that’s what I’ll be doing.

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