While Jakez flies to Expomusic in the Brazilian sunshine, we're sitting in the rain listening to Cristina Braga's new album: Samba, Jazz and Love. A gorgeous mixture of jazz trio, Cristina's lovely voice, blue harp and vibraphone: order it now from Enja.
There is a misunderstanding that still rears its not very good-looking head from time to time in the harp world. This is the idea that harp makers can act as artist managers. We can't - not very well, anyway - because we're not managers: we make and sell harps. Clever manufacturer sponsorship should be more about carving out directions that artists can develop, continue and continue to benefit from independently. As part of this, Harpblog also tries to keep its ear to the ground and publicise other useful opportunities.
It's not impossible that crowdfunding has been hot for a lot longer than this, but we first heard about it in 2010, when Keziah Thomas used the Kickstarter platform to fund a new commission. The 2012 Dutch Harp Festival used a similar principle to fund their Real Men Play The Harp concert, and there have been many other examples. There are many crowdfunding platforms to choose from - Kickstarter, IndieGogo, RocketHub, 8-Bit Funding, Community Funded, etc - and a handy Crowdfunding Bible you can download for free here.
Crowdfunding is very interesting for creative artists because it is best applied to one-off, individual projects. It is realistic and practical, requiring you to offer incentives for people to sponsor you. Another key aspect is something intrinsic to the survival of any art form: good communication of why you love what you're doing.
Lara Somogyi recently used Kickstarter to buy a blue harp, and create an internet video album showcasing the instrument.
When Biophilia reached the Palladium on Sunset Boulevard, its blue harp was what the Germans callverunglückt. Jakez got an email that morning about it - and decided to fly out and fix it himself.
There was nothing for it but to get straight on a plane to LA. Jakez was gutted
Zeena's other harp, which she's holding in this picture, is also interesting - read all about it here.
Photos: our partner in LA, Carolyn Sykes
July's Camac Voice, like June's, has a Turkish connection. Ozlem Simsek was born in Ankara to a Turkish father and an English mother, and studied classical harp at the Istanbul University State Conservatory.
At this point I'll make the sort of diversion I've always wanted to, and never could before - do you know what a Theremin is? I didn't. Originally the product of Russian government-sponsored research into proximity sensors, the instrument was invented in 1920 by the physicist Léon Theremin, and is unique among all other instruments in that you play it without touching anything. Instead, you move your hands in front of its two antennae (one controlling pitch, the other volume).
In 1994, Steven Martin made an award-winning documentary about the Theremin, and Léon Theremin's eventful life - Theremin: An Electronic Odyssey. It appeared in three top ten film lists, was invited to practically every major film festival, and described by Roger Ebert as "a curious experience. You begin with interest, and then you pass through the stages of curiosity, fascination and disbelief, until in the last 20 minutes, you arrive at a state of dumbfounded wonder. It is the kind of movie that requires a musical score only the Theremin possibly could supply."
The reason I mention the Theremin on Harpblog is that Ozlem plays both harp and Theremin. She bought her first Theremin three years ago, and uses it together with blue harp to create both experimental and ambient music that has really caught our attention. The layers of sound and sound processing both sensitively complement each other, and provide ear-catching difference - which is maybe one point certainly of ambient music. As Brian Eno himself remarked:
"Most music chooses its own position in terms of your listening to it. Muzak wants to be back there. Punk wants to be up front. Classical wants to be another place. I wanted to make something you could slip in and out of. You could pay attention or you could choose not to be distracted by it if you wanted to do something while it was on. I can’t read with a pop record playing, or with most classical records. They’re not intended to leave that part of the mind free – my mind, anyway. Ambient music allows many different types of attention."
Ozlem's attention was of different types even while still a student. "I always liked to sit at the harp and improvize, see where it would take me", she says, and on completion of her studies she won the 'Best Song' prize in the Apple/Bilkom I-Can competition as part of an electronic/ambient duo. The prize was a car which she promptly sold to buy her electric harp.
It was when Ozlem left Istanbul and relocated to London that her interest in electronic and experimental music really took off. "There are so many contemporary composers in London", Ozlem continues. "My classical training had given me a great foundation and technical stability, and I found myself able to work with all sorts of contemporary musicians, actors, poets, and performance artists. It was in London that I bought my first Theremin. I was fascinated by it, and by how well its sound and ambience blend with that of the electric harp.
More information is available on the festival website - NB! It's best to register before May 6th, to avoid a late registration fee. Festival artistic director Patrice Fisher has also created a series of engaging podcasts, including one with Deborah, which you can listen to here.
The clichéd image of the harp and harpists will be so familiar to most of Harpblog's readers that I won't describe it again. It's such a cliché that even "I want to dispell the cliché of the beautiful girl playing the harp etc. etc." has become clichéd.
Clichés are a funny mixture. Dulled by over-use, nonetheless they wouldn't exist without some basis in truth. And those who find themselves, like harpists, in particularly cliché-strewn fields, can't just throw them aside either. Whether you want to make use of them - to boost your wedding business, for example - or get away from them, they're hard to ignore.
The German pop harpist and singer (all her songs are in English), MarieMarie, knows about cliché. Her own music is “folctronic”, fusing elements of electronic music, like techno and dubstep, with folk, acoustic instruments and original, thoughtful lyrics. It’s music which is very much her own, for all that isn't as self-evident as it sounds. "The whole reason I started to write songs with the harp was to get away from cliché", she explains. "I started with a standard rock band combination. There's nothing wrong with rock if that's where you find yourself as an artist. But when you're desparate to escape a cliché, simply taking the most opposite direction you can think of isn't, in itself, any better. After a while I thought, this is no good - I don't like harp clichés, but equally I feel like I'm forcing the harp to sound not like a harp for artificial reasons. I might not be acting like a harpist, but I still feel like I'm pretending to be someone else."
Harpblog has been blogging about Deborah Henson-Conant's ongoing tour with Steve Vai since it began across the pond in the summer. We were very happy when the tour reached Europe, as it meant we got to go! Many thanks to Steve, his team and of course to Deborah for letting Harpblog's demon enthusiastic video camera behind the scenes.