23 Feb 2021
Harpmospheres is the first collaboration between composer Nick Harvey and world-renowned harpist Park Stickney. We spoke to them about this heartwarming new album on The Scoring House label.

Nick and Park, you have known each other for many years, but have never composed together until now. What is the story behind how this album came about?

Nick: Park and I met in Hong Kong in the 90s. I was living there at the time and Park was touring the world. Our paths first crossed in an arts venue called The Fringe Club where we started playing and improvising together. It was there that a great friendship was formed.

Park still spends most of his time on tour, but during COVID he wanted to get his studio in Switzerland up and running. Remotely, from the U.K., and over FaceTime, I helped set it up. In doing so, we started mucking around with recordings and took it from there. Before we knew it, we were composing together for the first time.

Park: For me, the miracle is how our friendship grew after Hong Kong. We’d lost touch for a while but then I started teaching in London, flying in semi-regularly. I remembered that Nick had moved back to London, and realised that, by chance, I had his mum’s number. So I rang her and she said, “Nicks’ doing great, he’s had a couple of bastards!”

I found this to be a strangely personal thing to tell me, as she and I had only spoken once previously. But I rang Nick, and our friendship resumed, better than ever. (And it turned out that she’d actually said, “a couple of ‘BAFTAs’” – which, frankly, made a lot more sense.)

Ironically, the day before lockdown happened, I was at Nick’s house. We were mucking about having fun and started talking about maybe one day recording some bits together. We’ve always had a lot of mutual respect musically, and it was exciting to imagine a joint project. Little did we know what was to come!

What inspired your creative process and how did production take place during lockdown?

Nick: What was lovely was that there was no brief at all; it was just us enjoying ourselves, creating for the sake of creating and simply seeing what might happen with absolutely no pressure externally. There was no pre-ordained process. Park would record a few seconds of randomness, send it to me and I’d have fun reversing it, stretching it, pitch-shifting it, dipping it in a vat of reverb, etc, and then I’d return it to him to improvise over.

It was one of the most creatively fulfilling projects I have been involved in. We just went with the flow and weren’t afraid of where it might take us. From pure and angelic one moment to dark and driving the next, 95% of the sonic material originates from Park’s recordings – from the sound of the harp itself. Yes, there is the occasional Moog bass on the album, but we were keen to keep it as ‘harp-focused’ as possible. The drums, percussion, ambient sweeps and textures all originally started out as a harp pluck, tap, scrape or hit.

Park: I felt like I was 10 again. Each morning we’d call each other and say, “What are we playing today?” Basically, we built a musical clubhouse in a virtual backyard! The album really is a picture of those months – how it, we, evolved over time. Nick would work his magic with what I sent him and every time it always came back completely different. I was like a kid at Christmas. You could see the ideas going back and forth – it was incredible. Often I’d send an improv and wonder, “What can Nick possibly do with this?” and every time he just found it!

Nick: The ideas would come thick and fast, and some were totally left-field. Often, I thought, “I can really go to town with this.” That said, it didn’t always work. Sometimes I’d get a two-minute long piece from Park, from which I only used two seconds to expand from. (Sorry, Park!). Often, I would use a sampled harp to show him how I imagined a piece might progress, and he would then do his own thing based on my mockup.

Before we knew it, we had seven tracks and I wondered if we might actually inadvertently be creating an album together. We talked about finding it a potential home, and I immediately (and excitedly) emailed Pete and Amy at The Scoring House to see if they’d be interested in having a listen. Park and I both knew we were creating something unique, and thankfully Pete and Amy thought so too.

Were there any specific sounds that you wanted to convey in the album?

Nick: No. Because there was no brief, either externally or from us, it really was a stream of consciousness. There were no limitations. A great example of this is how the last four tracks came about.

Park: I got a text from Nick saying his mum was going into hospital. It really freaked me out, so I hit ‘record’ and just started playing. I ended up sending him a one-take eight-minute improvisation… just wanting to send emotional support, somehow. It wasn’t until we got to the mastering stage that we realised that maybe we could do something with this, even though it wasn’t recorded with the album in mind. Far from it. We had seventeen tracks and wanted to get to twenty, so Nick suggested we listen to it again. It ended up forming the last four tracks. A complete photo of that time and emotion.

This is a pure lockdown album; a myriad of emotions from the darkness of lockdown to the lightness of what we were going through together. This album truly was a saviour for both of us. We weren’t doing it for anybody but ourselves.

Nick: Personally, I’m not used to collaborating musically with people – certainly not as a composer – so the whole Harpmospheres experience was beyond incredible. We worked so closely, it felt like we were physically in the studio together the whole time. All thanks to FaceTime, AudioMovers, WhatsApp and DropBox. Isn’t technology amazing?

Do you have a favourite track on the album?

Nick: I really like the first track, The Distant Beyond. I love the ambience, the textures, the journey it takes the listener on. It was one of our initial ideas and, as we wrote it, I knew we were onto something special. It doesn’t sound like anything else I’ve heard really. Every sound, bar none, on the track is the harp. It helped with the direction of all the tracks to come and gave me the mindset of ‘I’ll stick with harp only unless I really need to add something’. It kickstarted the process and, amongst other things, enabled us to make our own drum set out of harp sounds – which, although I say so myself, is a pretty unique idea. I can’t imagine many other people have done that!

Park: The penguin one. What did that track become? Clockwork Metropolis, that’s it! Originally, it was called ‘Penguinicity’, about the “state of being a penguin.” For me, I like the ones that are more hard-driving because they are the opposite of what the harp is often known for, i.e. relaxing. I really like that Nick was able to bring out the intense side of the instrument and create some rocking harp tracks. Nick even listens to it whilst he’s kickboxing!

All tracks are available to listen to and download now on the West One Music website here. The album will be released commercially on all major streaming platforms from Friday 26th February 2021.

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