By Leslie Buttonow
What do harps, music loopers and chamber music have in common? A lot, actually, if you’re Audrey Harrer. An electroacoustic harp player, Harrer performs her own style of experimental and alternative music, incorporating vocals and interesting elements such as looping, all inspired by her love of an eclectic mix of musical genres and artists such as Moondog, Patti Smith, Kate Bush and Laurie Anderson.
As one of the creative directors for Berklee College of Music, Harrer is further encouraged to explore her musical interests by working on diverse projects such as festivals, interviews, web series and more. Below, she describes her unique style, tips for networking and branching out as an artist, and new projects on the horizon.
Learn more at audreyharrer.net.
WiMN: Tell us a bit about your early experiences with music growing up. Also, what was it about the harp that made you gravitate toward it as your instrument of choice?
AH: My grandmother asked for a baby grand piano instead of a wedding ring when she married my grandfather, and as early as I can remember I would climb up on the keys and play; I particularly liked to sing at the same time. Fast forward, I studied music composition in college and then took a break from music altogether. Eventually I found myself wanting a new musical experience–to start fresh as a beginner at something. I had included harp in many of my early scores, it was a natural choice for a self-accompaniment instrument, and the sound had such magic to me. I started taking lessons and exploring the possibilities of the harp, and I just kept going with it.
WiMN: Many people probably think of orchestral or traditional arrangements when they think of the harp, but your performances incorporate vocal and looping techniques, backing tracks and other technology. How did you first think of blending a more traditional instrument with this musical technology?
AH: Because I adopted this instrument for the purpose of creative freedom, it felt natural to see how it fit with my love of technology and experimental sounds. I had already been working with electronic gear, and a big part of my journey with the harp has been exploring its sound in the studio with various technologies, and seeing how I could combine those two worlds.
WiMN: Your music is very unique. Please share with us how you developed your style.
AH: Awww, well that is a nice thing for you to say. I mostly strive to create meaning, and to find the elusive sounds that I wish existed in the world. My process is very additive. I’ll start with a simple shell of a song and then build in melodic layers until I uncover new sounds, harmonies, and textures. There are lots of discoveries along the way–ones I never would have imagined existed when I first began working on the song. Many of these are tied to the original goal or meaning of the composition–I think about how I can enhance, reimagine, or create gestures to support what it is that I’m trying to communicate.
WiMN: The music and music technology field has traditionally been male-dominated. As a woman in this industry, have you ever faced any challenges or discrimination? If so, how did you handle it?
AH: I’ve followed a very personal path musically, so it’s hard to say what doors have been open or closed for different reasons–I usually blame my eccentric style before my femininity. That being said, I’ve totally been victim to people underestimating my understanding of music technology because of my gender. I handle it by remaining smart and cool in those situations. I’m always open to learning new and better ways to do something, so I’ll listen, but I’ll also be confident that I know what works for my gear and sound…. though admittedly my elaborate setup usually signals to people that I’m on top of stuff 🙂
WiMN: You’re also a creative director at Berklee College of Music. What types of projects do you work on in that capacity?
AH: I have a pretty cool gig, and Berklee is involved in nearly every facet of the music industry. I just got back from producing media at the magical Eaux Claires Festival where we had some music business students interning. A few weeks ago, we collaborated with PRI’s The World on producing a cover of The Beatles’ “Drive My Car” sung in Arabic to celebrate the lifting of the women’s driving ban in Saudi Arabia. Other recent favorites include a session with Boys and Girls Club students recording at the legendary Powerstation/Avatar studio in NYC and our series called “Intervals,” which showcases visiting artists like Ebony Williams (“Single Ladies” dancer) and Ramin Djawadi (Game of Thrones composer). It’s great just to be around music in a meaningful and diverse way on a daily basis.
WiMN: How do you go about finding musicians and organizations to collaborate with? Any advice for young musicians looking to network?
AH: Playing and hosting shows with other artists has unlocked many things for me. I remember the feeling after my first tour– the world seemed so big but so connected. I learned I could go to any city and find friends and support. Taking that a step further, learning about what these other artists are involved in–where they have played, where they have found support–has been invaluable. I would say, start with your friends and people close to you and build out from there; book shows with them, book tours together, share information. That’s what has worked for me the most. It’s about building a community around your artistic practice.
WiMN: Any upcoming projects with Berklee you’d like to share?
AH: “Music & _____” is a new project currently in production. We’re focusing on community, food, architecture, AI, environment, and more, to craft a web series that explores music’s hidden connections to the world around us.
WiMN: What advice would you give to up-and-coming musicians who, like you, have their own unique angle and want to stay true to who they are, while establishing a career for themselves?
AH: Follow your vision, look for doors and windows, and create your own opportunities. I often get overlooked for traditional opportunities, but the ones that I create for myself are far more interesting. Write pitches for your dream projects and send them to collaborators and programmers; look for new platforms and performance opportunities outside of the norm; be proactive and make stuff with your friends. All of this will eventually lead to a body of work that represents your unique artistic practice. Once you find your creative voice, use it to be the force in the world that you think is missing.