An exciting new album from Grej, a.k.a. Greg Harrison, has got us thinking about the intersection between contemporary music and dance.
You may know him as half of the marimba duo Taktus or for his solo percussion/electronic work, but Fredericton-born, Toronto-based Harrison is also a producer and composer. Chasing the Path is his new one-hour score, commissioned by Human Body Expression's Hanna Kiel for a choreography of the same name that was presented by Toronto's DanceWorks in March. Kiel conceived the work for four dancers as an exploration of "the beauty of pain and memory."
This review praised the dance production in general for "expressing the inexpressible," and Harrison's score in particular for how it was "tailored to the many moods of the piece, from sombre reflection to a driving rhythm that is an outpouring of pain."
Harrison has decided to release his score as an album because he feels that listening to this type of music on its own offers a different experience. "It’s meant to support and play off the choreography," he told us recently. "[But] when you remove that aspect, it invites the listener to conjure up their own personal imagery and journey."
His score is built on an acoustic foundation of piano, cello, double bass, glockenspiel and organ, with added industrial/metallic instruments and electronic manipulation. Harrison plays all the instruments except for cello (Amahl Arulanandam) and double bass (Alex Kotyk).
"I wanted a feeling of warm memories becoming colder and more abstract," he says. Listen:
Kiel and Harrison had previously collaborated on two smaller-scale projects, Tangled and GH (Glass Houses) 5.0. "With Chasing the Path, I had an idea for a musical arc for the whole piece before I put my choreography together," Kiel explained to us. "I needed someone who could compose in a wide range of styles, including classical, contemporary and abstract, and I knew Greg was capable of doing that. Also, Greg and I share many of the same ideas on how music and dance should complement each other."
Harrison readily accepted the new challenge. "All my previous compositions are quite short, ranging from four to 25 minutes, so taking on a full-length project was something I’ve been interested in doing," he says.
The two met early on, over coffee, to get the ball rolling. "In this meeting, I shared my vision about the piece. I wanted the music to sound like a movie soundtrack. I wanted one main theme song and all four characters to have their own unique theme songs as well. I also gave him a rough idea of the choreographic structure," recalls Kiel.
"For me, this is the most important part of the process," Harrison reflects. "I need a lot of information before really getting into a creative zone. I try to create a similar story that coincides with the choreographer’s. From there, I start to build a sonic palette based on the story/mood/characters. I like to have all the tools ready before I start building. This part of the process can take me a long time, sometimes; I think I was in this phase for about two months before actually writing a single note."
Once he did start composing, Harrison created a few sample tracks for Kiel. "I brought the music to rehearsal and tried it out with the dancers," she explains. "We then exchanged notes about what worked and what didn’t. Once I had chosen the samples I liked, Greg developed those into full musical tracks." Occasionally, Harrison himself attended rehearsals to test his music with the dancers, to work on details of timing.
'Rejection is tough sometimes'
"The hardest part for me was rejecting many versions of Greg’s music samples because I knew he had put so much time and energy into them," says Kiel.
"Yeah, rejection is tough sometimes," Harrison responds, laughing. "We joked that all the rejected music will be used at my funeral. It can be challenging to let go of ideas that you get emotionally attached to. This project really tested me in that way. You just have to keep yourself inspired and trust that something better and more meaningful will come out."
Harrison was busy creating his score right up to the last minute and says he didn't really take it all in until closing night. "I was floored seeing all the components come together — everything from the set design (Joe Pagnan) to the lighting (Oz Weaver) came together in such a beautiful way, all perfectly supporting one another."
Stream Chasing the Path in its entirety and purchase/download the album here.
More to explore:
The showcase for Canada's contemporary composers. Incredible works ranging from romantic to modern; adventurous to minimalist. Hear: Marjan Mozetich, Alexina Louie, Ann Southam, Jean Coulthard, R. Murray Schafer, Colin McPhee and more