Twelfth Piece: Jenna Harris

IMC returns with a second season of Piece By Piece, a unique musical ‘chain letter’ of online improvisation, with eight exciting new artists from Ireland creating new work in sequence.

This fourth work of this season comes from vocalist and electronics composer Jenna Harris on Friday 18th December.

Jenna Harris is a vocalist, composer and lecturer from Dublin. She performs regularly with her three-piece band Berri, “a group that makes clear the difference between a jazz singer and a singer of jazz songs" (The Irish Times) and performs electroacoustic music under her own name. Jenna lectures on DCU's BA in Jazz and Contemporary Music Performance. In performance Jenna improvises using both her natural voice and live processing of her voice. This has developed a style of improvisation that intrinsically links the two, both feeding back and forth from each other. Her performances often incorporate reactive visuals that she builds as a platform to exhibit the voice as the instrument it is.

Jenna shared reflections on creating her work for Piece by Piece with us, which was influenced by thoughts around the isolation of the elderly during COVID, the climate crisis, and a different way of looking at the pieces which have gone before her in the series. 

Q 1. What does improvisation mean to you?

Creating something fresh in that moment in response to the environment you are in. It can mean different things at different times, but with two of the pieces I did for Piece by Piece it meant that I responded to some of the things that I have been thinking about during the pandemic.

I have missed talking with the elderly, usually in places like the supermarket and the bus stop. I have been thinking about the direction my own grandmother, the late Pat Harris gave me, the music she played for me, the art she showed me and the passing down of knowledge that a person can only achieve by living life for many years. It’s saddening to think that the interaction between children and their grandparents has been compromised, and at the very worst that children have lost their grandparents altogether. I thought about the communication between children and their grandparents. The questions and the need for guidance children have, the patience and repetition that comes from grandparents answering these questions, and the clarity that is required to help guide a child. All the above influenced Talking with Elders. The colour scheme comes from a painting called Venice Twilight by Claude Monet.

The other piece with the same approach; During the pandemic, the planet received momentary relief from the destruction by humans, so it is clear that a halt is possible, yet climate justice has not been given the same respect, it too causing the death of people and animals. The above influenced Regeneration. The colour scheme comes from a theory penned by Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe which assigned emotional reactions to various colours. According to Goethe’s theory, the colour blue is a powerful colour that stimulates contemplation because it is a balance of light and darkness.

Q. How do you think about engaging with material or ideas from another artist when improvising?

In a live improvisational context, I would have my ears open and allow my voice respond accordingly. If it is a specific idea that I am to work from I suppose the same as above, also trusting my interpretation of what I’m hearing, and allowing muscle memory take over and seeing what happens.

In relation to a piece I did for this project; I listened to and watched all of the pieces that came before me and there were always parts that I wanted to go back to. Looking at the timeline at the bottom of the YouTube page, it reminded me of a note on a line on a stave. I traced the line and marked the points I went back to in each piece. I put them all together, and in order of appearance assigned notes to each musician starting from the top of the treble clef stave to the bottom and back up again. This created two small melodies that I used as building blocks for this piece to springboard from. It’s called Pieces.

There is a relationship between sound and colour. It is a direct relationship between the continuous spectrum of frequencies of electromagnetic energy in the band of visible light, and the pitches of sound in a continuous frequency spectrum of sound that are 40 octaves below the frequencies of visible light. The colours I used for this piece are the colours that correspond with the pitches used in the small springboard melodies.

Q. How do you think the world of music is changing or will change as result of the COVID-19 crisis?

I have enjoyed the performances that I have seen online, but I am looking forward to being able to go to live music again. I think possibly, gigs will become a combination of the above, live gigs that are also being live streamed to reach a larger audience worldwide.

Studying music online has encouraged students to get a better home studio set up. This was initially to accommodate better sound quality during online performance classes and using online jamming platforms, but it also has the knock-on effect of being able to record remotely. Remote recording has always been a handy thing to do but clearly a lot more of this has been going on in recent months. Recording one part at a time doesn’t work best for all types of music but for the music that it lends itself to it has helped move projects along at a faster rate.

Watch the performance on IMC's Facebook, or YouTube on Friday 18th December at 8pm

Connect with Jenna Harris on her website, and Soundcloud

See more info about the Piece by Piece series here.

– posted