Imagining the past through the present: questioning notions of sameness and difference

Professor Bryn Harrison - University of Huddersfield - Professor in Composition

Part of the Music Research Colloquia series of events


Many of the compositions written by Professor Bryn Harrison (Professor of Composition) between 2000-2018 utilise discrete patterns in which near and exact repetition operate in close proximity. For the listener, this calls into question notions of sameness and difference. David Hume’s dictum that “repetition changes nothing in the object repeated but does change something in the mind which contemplates it” (Deleuze, 1994) became a defining aesthetic statement during the process of writing in this period. It illustrates how duration might be experienced as a state of perpetual ‘becoming’ through which each moment is perceived as being distinct from that which precedes it. Bryn’s experiments with this approach to musical perception prompted him to take an active interest in perceptual thresholds, boundaries and states of ambiguity. Over the past two years, he has begun to work more directly with technology and, in particular, experimenting with combinations of pre-recorded and live sound. The shifting relationship between digital and live loops has offered a different perspective to his work; the mechanical reproduction of the loop through digital means makes explicit the fact that each repetition is a carbon copy of what directly preceded it. This talk will demonstrate how his recent compositions (in particular Dead Time, written in 2019) challenges the listener’s perception of time by juxtaposing loops of material that are performed ‘live’ and those that are heard as pre-recorded ‘virtual’ loops. He will show how working in this way questions previously held notions of perpetually ‘becoming’ by questioning what constitutes ‘sameness’ and, by extension, how listening in the present might also involve imagining the past. 


Bryn Harrison is a composer and Professor in Composition at the University of Huddersfield from where he obtained a doctorate in composition in 2007. He has developed a close working relationship with ensembles such as Plus Minus, Asamisimasa, Elision, Exaudi, Apartment House, Bozzini Quartet, Wet Ink as well as with soloists such as Philip Thomas, Mark Knoop and Aisha Orazbayeva. In addition, his pieces have been performed by many other established ensembles such as Ensemble Recherche, Klangforum Wien, London Sinfonietta, London Symphony Orchestra with notable performances and radio broadcasts from international festivals across the world. 
As a composer, he has a long-held fascination with notions of musical time. Throughout his twenties and early thirties, he produced a steady output of solo and ensemble works, and in the process, developed an individual approach to dealing with time as a circular and repeating entity. Many of his subsequent works such as Surface Forms (repeating) (2009) operate at a speed and density that cannot be easily or immediately apprehended; they gradually draw the listener into an experience of the passage of time. More recently, he has continued to work with cyclical structures in a series of compositions of long duration that includes the 45-minute ensemble works Repetitions in Extended Time (2008) and Receiving the Approaching Memory (2014), and the 76-minute solo piano piece Vessels (2013). Over the past three years, his compositional research has focussed upon the ways in which memory operates in music. His hour-long Piano Quintet (2017) draws on a world of vanishings, recollections, apprehensions and remembrances. More recent works, such as Dead Time (2019), consider the use of highly-repetitive digital loops within the context of live instrumental settings.  He has co-authored two books: Overcoming Form: Reflections on Immersive Listening, (with Richard Glover) University of Huddersfield Press, 2013 and, with Jennie Gottschalk and Richard Glover; Being Time: Case Studies in Musical Temporality, Bloomsbury 2018. Bryn Harrison is a recipient of the prestigious Paul Hamlyn Foundation Award for Composers.

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