Jonty Harrison studied with Bernard Rands, Elisabeth Lutyens, and David Blake at the University of York (UK), graduating with a DPhil in Composition in 1980. Between 1976 and 1980 he lived in London (UK), where he worked with Harrison Birtwistle and Dominic Muldowney at the National Theatre, producing the electroacoustic components for many productions, including Tamburlaine the Great, Julius Caesar, Brand, and Amadeus, and also taught electroacoustic composition at City University.
In 1980 he joined the Music Department of the University of Birmingham (UK), where he was Professor of Composition and Electroacoustic Music, as well as Director of the Electroacoustic Music Studios and Director of BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre); he is now Emeritus Professor. At the University of Birmingham he taught a number of postgraduate composers from the UK and overseas; many are now themselves leading figures in the composition and teaching of electroacoustic music around the world. For ten years he was Artistic Director of the Barber Festival of Contemporary Music and he has made conducting appearances with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group (including in Stockhausen’s Momente in Birmingham, Huddersfield, and London), the University New Music Ensemble, and the University Orchestra.
He was a Board member of Sonic Arts Network (SAN) for many years (Chair, 1993-96). He has also been on the Council and Executive Committee of the Society for the Promotion of New Music and was a member of the Music Advisory Panel of The Arts Council of Great Britain.
As a composer he has received several Prizes and Mentions in the Bourges International Electroacoustic Music Awards (including a Euphonie d’or for Klang), two Distinctions and two Mentions in the Prix Ars Electronica (Linz, Austria), First Prize in the Musica Nova competition (Prague, Czech Republic), Second Prize in the Destellos Electroacoustic Composition Competition (Mar del Plata, Argentina), a Lloyds Bank National Composers’ Award, a PRS Prize for Electroacoustic Composition, an Arts Council Composition Bursary and research grants from the Leverhulme Trust and from the Arts and Humanities Research Board/Council.
Commissions have come from many leading performers, studios, and presenters: two each from the Groupe de recherches musicales (Ina-GRM) and the Institut international de musique électroacoustique de Bourges (IMEB — formerly the Groupe de musique expérimentale de Bourges), the International Computer Music Association (ICMA), MAFILM/Magyar Rádió, Electroacoustic Wales/Bangor University, IRCAM/Ensemble intercontemporain, Maison des arts sonores, BBC, Birmingham City Council, Birmingham Contemporary Music Group, Fine Arts Brass Ensemble, Nash Ensemble, Singcircle, Thürmchen Ensemble, Compagnie Pierre Deloche Danse, Darragh Morgan, John Harle, Beverly Davison, Harry Sparnaay, and Jos Zwaanenburg. Despite renouncing instrumental composition in 1992, he has written Abstracts (1998) for large orchestra and fixed sounds, Force Fields (2006) for 8 instrumentalists and fixed sounds for the Thürmchen Ensemble, and Some of its Parts (2012-14) for violin and fixed sounds for Darragh Morgan.
He has undertaken a number of composition residencies, most recently in Basel (Switzerland), Ohain (Belgium), Bangor (Wales, UK), and Bowling Green (Ohio, USA), and has been guest composer at numerous international festivals. In 2010 he was Guest Professor of Computer Music at the Technische Universität (Berlin, Germany). In 2014 he was Master Artist-in-Residence at the Atlantic Center for the Arts (Florida, USA), in 2015 he was recipient of the Klingler ElectroAcoustic Residency (KEAR) at Bowling Green State University (Ohio, USA), and in 2014-15 he was a Leverhulme Emeritus Fellow (UK).
His music is performed and broadcast worldwide and appears on four solo albums on empreintes DIGITALes, as well on compilations on SAN/NMC, Cultures électroniques/Mnémosyne Musique Média, CDCM/Centaur, Asphodel, Clarinet Classics, FMR, Edition RZ, and EMF.
Scunthorpe (England, UK), 1952
Residence: Birmingham (England, UK)
On the web
In the press
François Couture, electrocd.com, February 9, 2004
This is a casual listening path, an invitation to travel — not a guided tour per se, more of an itinerary, akin to Romantic-era travel literature. So this will be a listening itinerary, an invitation to discover a highly subjective selection of electroacoustic composers from a specific corner of the world. Our destination: Northern Europe.
France reigns over European electroacoustic music like a despotic queen. The persisting influence of Pierre Schaeffer’s work — even more than 50 years after the invention of what he has called “musique concrète” — and the gravitational pull of the Ina-GRM tend to hide from the rest of the world the work being accomplished elsewhere in Europe.
So let’s start our journey in one of France’s neighbors, Belgium. The country owes much of its electroacoustic activity to Annette Vande Gorne, the indefatigable animator of the Musiques & Recherches center. Her music displays a strong sense of serenity, something rare in the field of tape music. , a cycle about the five base elements (air, earth, metal, fire and water), remains a classic. In it she explores every possible transformation of the sounds associated to these elements with an uncommon level of artistry and poetry. A student of Vande Gorne, Stephan Dunkelman has picked up on her grace, a grace he transmutes into movement. Often the result of a collaboration with choreographers, his works are driven by an inner force that substitutes the sensuality of movement to Vande Gorne’s philosophical — almost mystical — depth. His pieces Rituellipses and Thru, Above and Between, released on the album , deserve your attention.
A jump across the Northern Sea and we set foot on English ground. Birmingham has become an important creative node in electroacoustic music, thanks to the work of composer Jonty Harrsison and his Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre (better known as BEAST), a laboratory for experimentation and sound diffusion that has helped many talented composers in developing their art. Harrison’s music is an essential listen. His piece Klang (released on ) ranks among the best-known electroacoustic works of the last 25 years. His precise sound constructions and his distinctive way of compressing sound matter into streams of energy put him up there with Pierre Henry, Francis Dhomont and Bernard Bernard Parmegiani. One can follow the traces of his techniques into the works of Adrian Moore, one of his students, especially in the latter’s fondness for putting simple sound sources (marker on a white board, tin foil) through complex transformations. Sieve, from the album , uses a catchy playfulness to make this transformative process transparent.
Denis Smalley was born and raised in New Zealand, but he has been living in the UK since the mid-‘70s. His contributions to the acousmatic corpus and to the development of sound diffusion make him not only the contemporary but in a sense the acolyte of Harrison. Furthermore, the two composers share a similar interest in form and in the choreographed displacement of abstract sound objects through space and time. Wind Chimes (on ) and Base Metals (on ) are good illustrations of the slightly cold yet fascinating beauty of his music. John Young, one of his students — and another New-Zealander who studied and now teaches in England), follows a similar approach, although he replaces Smalley’s elemental sound sources with more emotionally charged images. The works featured on his CD offer to the listener several occasions to dive into his or her own memories, the sound of a squeaky swing or a creaky door turning into avatars of Proust’s madeleine. Time, Motion and Memory is a choice cut.
Scandinavian electroacoustic music is still too largely ignored on our side of the Atlantic, but empreintes DIGITALes’ catalog allows us to make a short stop to round up our peregrinations. Natasha Barrett has studied with Harrison and Smalley and has been involved in BEAST, but since 1998 she has elected Norway as her base camp. There, she has stepped away from the style of her teachers and has sought inspiration in the Nordic cold. Her Three Fictions, released on , deserve many listens. And let me bring this listening path to an end with one of the key composers in electroacoustic music today, the Swedish Åke Parmerud, whose Renaissance (on ) pays tribute to the analog synthesizer without resorting to nostalgic tricks.