h. james harkins, composer

Selected works

Below, find some full recordings and excerpts of some selected examples of my work.

If you are interested in performing any of these works, particularly the notated ones for instruments, please contact me and I will be happy to send performance materials.

SuperCollider live performances

Process Prototype in 4’33 ArtSpace 05/20/16: SuperCollider live-coding with xiao flute improvisation

A return to flute improvisation with computer. I had felt that solo live coding was becoming disconnected from an embodied musical impulse, so I started picking up my flutes again. This is the first outcome. (Sangha flower below is also for xiao flute and computer, but it’s conceptually different. Sangha flower evolved into a fixed form, in which only the middle section was improvised. The present work is only loosely structured; repeated performances will be markedly different.)

Process Prototype in Hong Kong 03/26/15: SuperCollider live-coding (2015)

A short excerpt of slowly-evolving ambient style, taken from a 35-minute performance at Musicians’ Area livehouse in Hong Kong. I am typing instructions into the computer to add new materials and change them as the performance goes on. The audience can see everything I’m doing on the projection of my screen.

Affectations: Torso: Computer with webcam control (2013)

This piece was originally composed as one of the five movements of an evening-length modern dance piece, Affectations, created by Dance Box Theater (Mt. Rainier, Maryland). The full piece premiered in 2010 at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts. I extracted this movement later for solo performance with computer.

The original conception of Affectations involved gestural control of music and video projection by the dancers’ movements. This was not fully realized; however, in Affectations: Torso, I preserved this element by controlling the performance using only a laptop’s webcam. The performer uses specific gestures to influence sonic events and advance through the work’s sections.

“Torso” refers to the center of breathing and movement. It is still and stable, but always moving. Accordingly, this piece is made largely of long tones with lots of internal timbral variation.

Older performances

Sangha flower: Xiao flute and computer (2008)

Originally written as a short meditation for the Mindfulness Practice Center of Fairfax, this version is revised and expanded for a performance at the Shanghai Conservatory of Music as part of the 2008 New Music Week. Granular synthesis produces the long harmony notes directly from recordings of the xiao flute.

Got an itch to scratch: Bamboo flute and computer (2007)

Originally created for the first SuperCollider Symposium in 2006 at the University of Birmingham (UK). This performance took place about a year later, at Duke University.

Chamber and solo works

Meditations on “Myu Mhaung Wai Kin”: Oboe, bassoon and electronics (2015)
(Recording to come later.)

Commissioned by bassoonist Michael Garza for performance during the International Double Reed Society’s 2015 conference in Tokyo. Michael and his friend, oboist Keri McCarthy, have made several trips to Yangon, Myanmar to introduce double-reed instrumental practice to a region where Western classical music is in its infancy. They wanted to introduce the traditional music of Myanmar to the audience, by combining it with modern classical writing for oboe and bassoon.

The piece is based on a traditional water festival song, “Myu Mhaung Wai Kin” (“The Clear and Peaceful Mist”), in a version for saung (Burmese harp) performed by the master Kyaw Myo Naing. I transcribed the recording and used it as the basis for most of the electronic part, which plays the notes in a resynthesis model of the harp’s timbre. Following the Southeast Asian musical practice of heterophony, in which multiple instruments play the same line with different ornamentation, the oboe and bassoon embellish the harp music independently.

Theme and Variations: Oboe, clarinet in A and bassoon (2014)

My only fully acoustic piece in several years, the Theme and Variations follows the classical model of a series of discrete variations on a theme. The theme is not a melody, but rather a set of clearly-defined gestures that are expanded and recombined as the piece proceeds. Each instrument of the trio gets a “feature” variation—the oboe’s feature even functions traditionally as a maggiore variation.

This excerpt comes from the premiere performance at Xinghai Conservatory, April 11, 2015, by Cornelius Finke (oboe), Schyler Fung (clarinet) and Michael Garza (bassoon). (Unfortunately, a recording glitch prevents me from sharing the entire performance. This excerpt comprises roughly the last half of the piece.)

Fantasia on “Liu Sanjie”: Flute, bassoon and electronics (2013)

The Fantasia on “Liu Sanjie” was written for a series of concerts that took place in April 2013 in Nanning, Guangxi Province, China. This performance is from Xinghai Conservatory of Music, April 11, 2015. The work may be performed as a trio, or with recorded erhu.

“Liu Sanjie” (“Third Sister Liu”) is a well-known folk song of the Zhuang minority, who are rooted in Guangxi province. Although the story is famous across China (popularized by a 1960 film of the same name), this setting does not attempt to reflect the story. Rather, the tune is a springboard for a variety of musical responses—conventional, improvisatory, pointillistic and finally neo-Baroque—celebrating the melody’s elegant simplicity.

You are already on the far shore: Violin and computer (2009)

Composed in 2009 for Eric Pritchard’s faculty’s solo recital at Duke University, You are already on the far shore turned out to be something of a tour of my musical influences over the years. It begins with a densely chromatic, so-called “academic new music” idiom, passing through rhythmically complex breakbeat manipulations influenced by drum’n’bass before settling into a meditative calm that is overtly reminiscent of Messiaen.

Fixed media works

Jupiter Chimes (2016)

Jupiter Chimes is a study of bell sounds, synthesized by resonators and feedback delay lines. Most of the material comes from a set of six-note chords in just intonation, played in block chords and also expanded into algorithmically-generated rhythmic counterpoint. The opening slow-breathing meditation gives way to a minimalist texture of increasing density, before dissolving into a downward sweep at the end. All sounds are synthesized in SuperCollider, without any prerecorded samples.

Premiered on December 6, 2016 at the inaugural concert by the Sirius Ensemble, Guangzhou, PRC.

Complete version: https://soundcloud.com/dewdrop_world/jupiter-chimes

Xiphidiopicus percussus (2007)

This piece began as part of a series of technical studies I called “Project Runway” (after the reality TV show). This one grew into a witty examination of very fast and very short notes. Xiphidiopicus percussus is the scientific name for the Cuban woodpecker and refers to the insistent and impossibly fast percussive attacks.

Mahboonkrong encounter Di flute and electronics (2001)

Sweet and melancholy notes from the Chinese flute blend with atmospheric electronics. The last half, excerpted here, palpably slows down the hearer’s breathing.

Laghoe dindang (2002)

Straight-ahead techno with Indonesian flavor. It works so well you wonder why it hasn’t been done more often. This excerpt leads up to the climax.

Candle dance (2002)

My friend Bruce played this Thai folk tune on his so-duang (a Thai fiddle much like the Chinese er-hu), and I was immediately captivated. Later, he recorded it onto my computer and I built this lively, jazzy accompaniment around it. Later in the piece, his playing gets sliced-‘n’-diced into a new, jazz-improv solo and the harmony strays pretty far from home.

CC-BY-SA 4.0 by H. James Harkins (2015): Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike

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