Sound Impression: Mark Harris – In The Forests_The Animals Are Moving [N5MD]

In the forests_CDSleave_FinA

Based in England’s West Midlands, visual artist and musician Mark Harris uses generative systems to create pieces which he can gradually develop and improvise upon. Such is the case with his return to the N5MD label In the with In The Forests_The Animals Are Moving, a new long form opus based on a series of experiments with modular synthesis processes mimicking the harmonic properties of bell tones which he then mixed and shaped over a long period of time resulting in a 45 minute ambient narrative.

As for the title, as I mentioned I spent a long period just listening to these original “bell improvisations” and these had obviously wormed their way into my subconscious As I had a recurring dreams over the period of time working on the project of being alone in a forest at night and hearing a single repeated bell which I used orientate myself to find my way home and avoid the wild animals that I could hear moving around unseen in the forest…I hope the listener catches some of that mood. – Mark Harris

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Travelogue Week 2015-14: EP Spotlight Redux (and a label launch)

This week’s travelogue once again puts the spotlight on the humble EP as there have too many of these small gems released recently to ignore. Included among this batch are splendid new works from William Ryan Fritch and 36, a unique 48 hour collaboration by the artists of Bigo & Twigetti, a pair of standout releases from label/magazine Futuresequence, and a trio of recordings marking the launch of a brand new label, Moderna Records founded by Évolène Lüthi.  

William Ryan Fritch | Dampener (Lost Tribe Sound)

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Album Review: “The Angry Child” by Mark Harris (n5MD)

“The Angry Child” is the latest full length work from UK based artist, musician, and programmer Mark Harris which has just been released by n5MD. It is a serene, evocative, and polished album of pure ambient music that can be appreciated just on the hearing, but it is best enjoyed with an appreciation of his creative process along with the narrative that surrounds the making of the record.

What is unique about the way Harris works is his evolutionary approach which combines generative processes, composition, and improvisation.  The process begins with amassing a pool of raw sonic material – generated sounds, processed samples, and field recordings – and then organically improvising with and reworking it until a finished product emerges.  Harris likens the end product to an iceberg with “…the final work as the bit which floats above the surface, and under the surface is the mass of unused material which never see the light of day.”

With this modus operandi, the same raw material can yield multiple pieces, each with a different mood and perspective which reflects the mind set of the artist at the time of creation, and that where specific narrative comes in. As Harris tells it, the narrative behind “The Angry Child” goes back to the final stages of his work on his previous n5MD release, “An Idea of north / Learning to walk”, where he worked on a series of compositions that coalesced into the title track and then returned to them months later only to rediscover much untapped potential.  This discovery led to the decision to build a complete album around that pool of material.

Lest all this sound too scientific, there is a strong emotional element in the improvisation and those emotions convey through the music to the listener.  About the six pieces on “The Angry Child”, Harris says “I was stuck by how all of the pieces were evocative of the landscape of rural Norfolk in the UK where I spent a lot of time when I was a boy, an endless flat landscape where the tide would take the sea out from miles and at times the sea / the sky / and the weather all gradually merge together. I remember how as a boy I would spend hours sitting on a small hill looking out to sea watching the light / clouds and weather gradually change… I hope the listener catches something of the feeling of that place and time by listening to this work.”.

I believe Harris has succeeded admirably in conveying just what he describes.  The music on “The Angry Child” indeed evokes a grand sense of place and, through a nostalgic artistic lens, manages to capture many emotions experienced during youth.  Harris reminds us childhood is sometimes and isolated and uneasy place (‘the tributary_losing your way’ and ‘in spite of everything_the night that made the darkness’). Sometimes it is full of painful growth and regrets (‘the angry child’ and ‘everything i did was wrong’).  At other times it is full of mystery and wonder (‘before you wake_or the fool who mimics the sun’) and, not to be overlooked, love and gratitude (‘running forward_ to the object of ones affection’).

All in all, ‘The Angry Child” is a very satisfying and polished outing for Mark Harris and would make a fine addition to any ambient music collection. With full appreciation of the manner it was created and the narrative surrounding it, the album should yield many enjoyable listening sessions, especially if you take the time to find the stillness and inner child within yourself when you lend your ears to it.

Ordering (CD/MP3/FLAC):

Album Review: “An Idea of North/Learning to Walk” by Mark Harris (on n5MD)

I admit to not being overly familiar with long form pieces of ambient music, but I have to believe that “An Idea of North/Learning to Walk’ by UK sound artist Mark Harris would be considered one of the finer expressions of the genre.  It is an absorbing, immersive journey in sound that is full of depth and nuance and which can be enjoyed either with careful attention to all of its facets, or subconsciously as it connects to deeper senses of place and memory.

Not unlike preparing to watch a film, before one takes on tracks of this length, it is probably helpful to know something about both the artist and the piece both so you can get the most from the experience.  Via his n5MD artist profile, we learn that Mark usually works from heavily processed samples of live instruments and field recordings along with live synthesis in a unique generative process using his own custom developed software applications and real-time improvisation.

By Mark’s own account, the central piece, ‘An Idea of North’, flowed out seamlessly in one take initiated after an unusually heavy English snowfall during the Christmas period of 2010.  Then, Mark says, “As I usually work by a process of improvisation, and often use memories of environments / landscape as a starting point for a composition – I gradually began to think of creating a longer composition which would seamlessly merge pieces around the work I’ve just created, which would give the listener the impression of a journey through various environments / landscapes (both physical and emotional) gradually moving from the familiar to the more extreme / isolated and “darker” spaces and then gradually returning “home” at the end of the piece.”.

Indeed, the piece begins with familiar and calming sounds of rain, birdsong, and the Doppler effect of the occasional car coming and going over wet roadway.  This goes on long enough to immerse the listener in a sense of place before the synthesized sounds begin to gently assert themselves. Gradually, the rain falls harder and the music slowly begins to move front and center until it finally takes over completely and a sense of isolation is created, as if one is turning deeply inwards or retreating from the trappings of civilization.

About 12 minutes in, just as Mark description suggests would happen, the landscape changes.  We hear waves and the very distant droning of engines which create a sense of both seclusion and orientation to a new a place.  At this point we here one bright, chiming note, then another, then several more spaced unevenly apart to create a musical impression of the feeling of taking first steps and here the words in the title, “learning to walk”, suddenly seem to fit perfectly.  This sense of discovery and determined movement is a nice change and adds an element of brightness and optimism to the piece before the synthesized music begins a long, slow fade to sustain a feeling of calm reflection.

Besides the music and sculpted sounds themselves, the album is finely mastered and just sounds great coming through a pair of headphones, a quality which only enhances the journey.   If you appreciate long form works, you will not want to miss this.  If not, perhaps this would be a good one to get your feet wet with.  Either way, I recommend a listen with no reservations.   See below for links to the album and a Soundcloud preview:

Mark Harris on Vimeo (includes links to him on Soundcloud, Facebook, & Google+)

Album link on the n5MD web site