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James Harley "Ariel Fragments" for women's choir and 8-channel electroacoustics (2007)

James Harley
James Harley


Program Notes:

Ariel Fragments for female/treble voices and electroacoustic soundscape

Duration: 16’45”

Ariel Fragments (2007) is written for female or treble voices divided into three choirs, along with a multi-channel electroacoustic soundscape. The piece presents fragments of text taken from the character of Ariel in William Shakespeare’s The Tempest. The text is not intended to convey a narrative; instead, a chaotic algorithm was used to select words, phrases, or lines from Ariel’s part. At times, the three choirs sing the same text at the same time, the same text at not-quite the same time, different texts in parallel. The two parts (soprano-alto) within each choir are always linked rhythmically.

Musical references associated with Ariel in the play are fancifully represented by fragments of a solo lyra viol recording by Mary Cyr, Professor Emerita of Music at the University of Guelph, performing music by Alfonso Ferrabosco, a Renaissance composer active around the time of Shakespeare. Isolated phrases from this recording are heard in conjunction with the electroacoustic soundscape, at times quite clearly, at other times in a distorted fashion. The music of the choirs is tenuously linked to this Renaissance material, by contour occasionally, more often by modal identity.

The electroacoustic soundscape is based on references to natural phenomena mentioned, or implied, in The Tempest. The sounds have been subjected to sometimes drastic signal processing, creating a continuum from the referential to the fantastical. In its 8-channel format, these recorded sounds surround the listeners, immersing them in a rich sound-world based on thunder, waves, wind, water, birds, and the like. The added spatialization of the choral voices serves to clarify the counterpoint of the three groups.

Ariel Fragments was created in collaboration with Marta McCarthy, who conducted the University of Guelph Women’s Chamber Choir at the premiere performance on 15 March 2007 at the RiverRun Centre in Guelph. A second performance took place on 2 April 2007 by the same performers at the MacDonald Stewert Art Centre in conjunction with the “Shakespeare Made in Canada” exhibition.

James Harley


James Harley Biography:

James Harley is a Canadian composer presently based in Ontario, where he is Associate Professor in the School of Fine Art and Music at the University of Guelph. He obtained his doctorate in composition at McGill University in 1994, after spending six years composing and studying music in Europe (London, Paris, Warsaw). His music has been awarded prizes in Canada (CBC, New Music Concerts, SOCAN), USA (McKnight), UK (Holland, Huddersfield), France (Bourges, MC2), Poland (Lutoslawski, Serocki), Japan (Irino), and has been performed and broadcast around the world. Some of Harley's compositions are available on disc (Artifact, ATMA, Kappa, McGill, Musicworks, PeP, Soundprints) and his scores are primarily available through the Canadian Music Centre. He has been commissioned by, among others, Codes d'Accès, Continuum, ECM, Hammerhead Consort, Kappa, Kore, Kovalis Duo, New Music Concerts, NUMUS, Oshawa-Durham Symphony, Open Ears Festival, Polish Society for New Music, SMCQ, Trio Fibonacci, Trio Phoenix, Vancouver Bach Choir. He composes music for acoustic forces as well as electroacoustic media, with a particular interest in multi-channel audio. According to Marc Couroux, Harley's music "resides at the intersection of a network of influences rather than proliferating from a central ideology... Harley accepts that the complexity of nature requires a more artistically imaginative interpretation than the simple extension of an Arcadian, placid contemplation... Harley consequently oriented himself towards the theory of chaos, which derives its principles from a much more global study of natural mechanisms than was previously allowed due to hyperspecialization... James Harley defends on the highest level the great Canadian creative tradition, rooted in the natural world, a metaphor for the irreducible complexity of Canada and, by extension, of universal humanity."


Audio Clips:

"Ariel Fragments" for women's choir and 8-channel electroacoustics (2007)

Words by William Shakespeare

University of Guelph Women's Chamber Choir

April 2, 2007, MacDonald Stewart Art Centre



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