My voice and my language always reflect my recent experiences - interview with Elisabeth Harnik

Piotr Wojdat
Autor zdjęcia: 
mat. promocyjne

What is the most important for you in improvising?

Elisabeth Harnik: The process of creating, either together with a collective or alone as a soloist. The shared celebration of the moment and our creativity.

Does education helped you in finding your own voice in improvised music?

In my case it was an autodidactic approach via listening, via 'un-learning' and 're-learning', via sound explorations, sound experiments, via re-inventing my instrument, via developing my own piano techniques etc. on the base of a classical education. It is a process which continues and never ends. My voice and my language always reflect my recent experiences - in my artistic and personal life. I am in a permanent dialogue with my own repertoire and associated possibilities of structuring time when creating.

You've received a Deep Listening Certificate. Could you tell me what's this?

During my "learning and wandering years" I became aware of the American composer and accordionist Pauline Oliveros. By attending one of her Deep Listening Workshops in Berlin in 2000, I received important impulses. Pauline Oliveros, born in 1932, moved in her artistic work between the fields of composition and improvisation like I do. She was a pioneer of electronic music and a leading figure in contemporary music as a composer, interpreter, teacher and author. In the course of time, as a composer she abandoned Western traditional composing and performance practice and created scores consisting of verbal instructions based on her lifelong practice of “deep listening”. For Oliveros, this attentive listening meant listening to absolutely everything in every moment, in every imaginable way—whether composing, improvising or in everyday life. In a sense, her approach was a continuation of John Cage's 4'33". In 2015 I took part in a Deep Listening Retreat in the Arctic under the guidance of Pauline Oliveros, Heloise Gold and Ione. Heloise Gold is a choreographer, dancer and performance artist, Tai Chi/Qi Gong teacher and co-founder of the project "Art from the Streets" for homeless artists. Ione is an author, poet, director, sound artist, dream therapist, and since 2001 artistic director of the Deep Listening Institute. The experiences I gained were so profound that I immediately decided to take part in the Deep Listening Certificate Program in order to deepen my practice and to integrate it into my artistic and personal everyday life. I experience the holistic approach of Deep Listening, where listening exercises, body work and dream work are part of the practice, as a perfect complement to my abilities.


You've just released an album with Steve Swell, which is called "Tonotopic Organizations". How was to improvise with Steve?

After my first playing experience with Steve during his residency at Krakow Autumn Jazz Festival where we played his music in a large ensemble, it was great to have the opportunity to work with him in a duo format - also for the first time. We have known each other from before - we met in NYC during Ken's Residency at the Stone f.e. or at other festivals but never played together. So - how was it to improvise with Steve? It was 'new'! Every first time meeting is special. We don't know yet what tools the other musician uses, what strategies etc. It was exciting - for both of us there were surprises and challenges and irritations and findings..... It was like 'staking out a new territory'.


What kind of musician and what kind of person is he? How would describe him?

I don't know Steve so well... For sure I can say that he is a very warm-hearted and gentle person, very human and besides being a fantastic musician he is an incredible poet! You must read his poems! He is very humble and uncomplicated - touring with him was very relaxed. On stage he gives everything - no matter if it is a big hall or a small classroom with kids in the audience! A beautiful player and person, nothing more to say! And of course a very experienced player!


This year you've released an album with Andrea Centazzo ("Duophonic Landscape") and another one with Frank Gratkowski ("Burrum-bah"). Could you tell me more about these records?

With Andrea I work since 2 years together and we played concerts in Austria and Italy. The album was recorded 2019 in a winery in the North of Italy close to the Slovenian border. A beautiful venue with very special acoustics! I can still remember that it was quite cold in there and there were wine casks around us.... the air humidity was extremely high, the piano keys were wet!

In January 2020 I toured in Australia. Frank also toured in the same period with his quartet because we both were invited to the SoundOut festival in Canberra. So we met more or less at the same venues, haha! Richard Johnston, the curator of SoundOut suggested that we could perform as a duo during the festival. Frank and myself know each other for many many years but actually never played together - so we agreed and had our first play - believe it or not - on the other side of the earth in Canberra! And it was a great set with intense communication, very vivid...  luckily it was recorded! It is a document of a successful first-time meeting shortly before Covid19! The title Burrum-bah refers to "Where the kangaroo, the wallaby, bounces over the rocks" in the local language of the Ngunnawal peoples of Canberra.


What are your plans for the near future? Any recordings coming soon?

Another duo album with Michael Zerang will soon come out with Not Two Records. As we in Austria are facing a second lockdown I will be at home and compose in the near future, haha. No, it is actually quite sad. I had to cancel a tour with Joelle Leandre and some other concerts coming up in November.... A lot of work with postponing projects, concerts etc. ..... Planning is quite difficult right now. I am recalling my own inner strength and do my best to stay in contact with collaborators, presenters, writers, listeners...... So the only plan that I have control over is to stay in the creative process.

With who would you like to make music and why? I mean this musicians, with who you haven't played already.

Ah, ah, there are a lot of them! Besides several musicians that come into my mind immediately which I already met or know or have heard perform but have not played yet, I am also curious about the young generation, about musicians I don't know yet - about their way of creating, their visions etc.