Meet our Friends–Daniel Harrison, Composer
Jessica: Daniel and I met at Fresh Inc, a new music festival in Wisconsin where I got to work with him to premiere his piece “Breathing Being.” Daniel was so full of enthusiasm and so fun to work with that I would have loved our time together even if I didn’t love Breathing Being. But, of course, I do love it–and I can’t wait to share it with you! He takes great advantage of everything the clarinet can do from ridiculously gentle entrances to fun colors and blend. The more I work with this piece, the more I appreciate the structure and built in play with timbre, color, and texture. But you don’t have to know that to love his work. He uses what is simply great composing to remind us of the very natural, important, dynamic, and centering power of the breath. Like butterflies awakening from our cocoons, I propose we should all start our mornings by meditating to Breathing Being and becoming more present in the world around us as we wake up and our energy grows and builds.
Jessica: Can you tell us a little more about the inspiration for Breathing Being? What made you choose a clarinet quartet to express Breathing Being?
There’s of course the obvious connection to it being for a group of woodwind instruments; air being breathed into a hollow vessel to produce sound, to give life to something. I also choose this for clarinet quartet because I thought the clarinet captured the mood and expressive palate that I needed to capture the gradual blossoming of color in the piece. I love the clarinets ability to have extreme dynamic control in all of its distinct registral colors. The sound of a group of clarinets has always evoked a sense of warm, somewhat nostalgic feelings in me.
Jessica: Less obvious than the great use of the clarinet’s abilities for a piece built around soft entrances and color, is the great structure of the changing “breath” in Breathing Being. It’s not a traditional form that I would analyze with ABA or a development section or any other terms you find in music theory. But there are clear sections built so that they feel natural for the listener. Can you talk a little about architecture in music or composition and what that means for you?
The concept of architecture deeply informs my music, though my conception of architecture in music has changed over the years. I went through a few years where everything in my music was controlled and planned out (pitches, durations, timbres, etc.). After experimenting with this “total control” for a while, I found that it left me kind of cold. It was lacking a human and expressive quality. These day’s I try to balance one or two pre-determined ideas, this could be a durational or canonical structure, or some sort of process of color/timbral shift, with non pre-determined ideas, things that inevitably happen while sitting at the piano composing. An idea that really excited me one day, may the next day be really boring or uninteresting. It’s important for me to realize this non-uniformity of identity in my music. The pre-determined ideas then become only a starting point for how the piece develops over the time of me arguing, disagreeing, or re-contextualizing the original premise over the time I compose the piece. Architecture for me is now informed by this personal process. This doesn’t yield a piece of music that can be graphed neatly on a chalkboard or be argued in a court of law, but does hold that human, expressive element that I was looking for.
Jessica: Do you have any favorite pieces?
It’s tough to pin down a list of all time favorite pieces, because it changes so frequently. Lately I’ve been really into “Schnee” by Hans Abrahamsen, “Wicker Park” by Marcos Balter, and “Aggravations et Final” by Gerard Pesson.
Jessica: Do you have any favorite instruments to write for?
I have always gravitated towards winds, brass, and percussion in my music. For me, these instruments hold the widest variety of color and expression. Though, this could also be attributed to my musical upbringing playing in jazz ensembles in high school and college.
Check out the show featuring Breathing Being on facebook or eventbrite.
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