Patience pays off as northern Manitoban composer gets in step with rhythms of seasonal change
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Kerey Harper is learning to be patient with himself.
The 26-year-old musician from St. Theresa Point First Nation — a remote community accessible only by ice roads or plane — creates electronic dreamscapes inspired by weather, seasonal changes and nature.
Composing these lush pieces takes time and Harper, who admits he’s not always allowed himself the grace to create, has seen the error of his ways.
“I can be hard on myself sometimes. I try to force myself to finish something but I’m learning to be more patient. If I try to compose something and nothing is coming then I have to wait for it. It’s very unpredictable when I’m going to write something,” he says.
One of his favourite pieces, Circadian Sleeper, was written in two halves; the first quarter he started in the summer and then promptly forgot about. He encountered it again nearly a year later when he was looking through some projects, and finally finished it.
He will be in Winnipeg on March 22 to perform at Manitoba Chamber Orchestra’s 50th-anniversary season concert.
MCO’s 50th Anniversary season concert
● March 22, 1 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.
● Kerey Harper will be playing in the Muriel Richardson Auditorium at the Winnipeg Art Gallery alongside Nahre Sol, Kris Wachniak and Corie-Rose Soumah with Larry Strachan as musical adviser.
● For tickets log on to themco.ca
“I will be bringing a bunch of machines with me. It will be a modular system, which has a bunch of modules that connect to create ambient texture. I printed my tape loops on a sampler and I am using an iPad too; it’s the brain that generates a lot of the melodic lines. All of this will be blended with the orchestra. You can expect this united texture and me, in the middle, commanding everything,” he explains.
He’s currently rehearsing in his studio in the house he shares with his mother, Patricia, and girlfriend Elizabeth. His inspiration comes from the natural world, in particular weather changes, and in the summer he prefers composing music outdoors.
“I like it when the seasons change because it feels like the start of a new cycle. And I feel refreshed. I also like music technology in general; different machines, guitar pedals,” he says.
His compositions, the rising bloops and bleeps created by twirling buttons and manoeuvring levers, are wholly immersive, each one gently drawing the listener into his world.
He “prints” his ideas on equipment from the ’70s and ’80s, reel-to-reel tape machines he sources online.
His compositions often start out as tiny seeds of almost-nothing which nudge him as they unfurl, urging him to get them out into the world. They often come to him when he’s out on a walk or a drive, and he tries to hold on to the fragments until he gets home.
“It starts out as nothing, and it needs to get it out somehow,” he says. “The instrument I use depends on the idea I have… whatever suits it best. Sometimes it’s a guitar, sometimes it’s electronics, sometimes a piano… sometimes it’s all those things together. I have to keep hold of the idea until I get home and I try to print it on whatever instrument I can,” he says.
Harper likes using “old techniques” because they lead to better results. Using obsolete technology allows him to “feel” his ideas, he explains. He records a lot of outdoor ambient sounds that lead to unique textures and rhythmic musical patterns.
“Tape machines play a big part in my composing process right now. Before, I did everything using the computer, I used Ableton Live (software) to keep track of my ideas but now, after I started to save money, I am able to afford decent tape machines.”
Harper uses terms like “draft” and “print” when he speaks about creating sounds. He saves his works in progress, and doesn’t usually think about them until he comes back to them later.
“I like to keep track of everything but when I am making it I am not thinking if it’s good or not. I just want it to be recorded, I just want to hear it later.”
He needs to be fully focused when he revisits a piece, sometimes sitting for hours in his home studio trying to perfect all the little details.
“If I am too distracted, I lose all the ideas I have. I have to get really absorbed in the music and just go with it. It’s a very meditative feeling.”
He describes his music as experimental with a hint of classical.
“I would say it’s very textural, very relaxing. I really like On the Nature of Daylight by contemporary classical composer Max Richter. That song really put a good impression on me and led to the music I am doing now.”
Harper’s musical tastes are eclectic; as well as professing a deep admiration for Richter, he also listens to Erik Satie, a French composer who died in 1925, obscure English record producer Stuart Howard who goes by Lapalux, and Hainbach, an experimental electronic musician from Berlin.
Composing and playing music is something he’s always wanted to do, after starting to play guitar at 12 and writing songs at 14. His mother, he says, is pleased he’s still at it.
“She is happy that I stuck to it. That I didn’t stop. That I am still doing it after all these years. I tried to do university and it didn’t work out because I was too busy focusing on music. I didn’t think uni was right for me, I wasn’t really interested in it.
“Music is turning into a career right now and I am finally started to get more commissions and more work coming for me. I want to keep doing these projects; I want it to turn into a full-time job,” he says.
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AV Kitching is an arts and life writer at the Free Press.