Tuesday, August 16, 2016

The Composer

"My innermost dream is to go on learning; to never stop learning. And that covers everything really; to be better at music till the day I die but also to be better at life".
I have been trying for a long time to understand synaesthesia and the process of enhancing artistic experiences by mixing the senses. (Of course, I am liberally talking about synaesthesia more in its creative use, just like the French Symbolist poets did; and not at all as a neurological disorder).
I am not musical, I am afraid; – in fact I cannot play 2 notes together. But I do appreciate music – it has a big place in my creative process. My tastes vary, from metal to classic and my preferences change based on moods or on what type of project I am working on. I have often been told things like “you don’t strike me like a head banger” when confessing my life-long love for the music of Iron Maiden. But I also love so many other artists, so many other genres. I still think Freddie Mercury is one of the greatest musicians ever; but that doesn’t stop me from taking refuge in Benedetto Marcello’s Oboe Concert in C minor, or from listening to new music. The only criteria I filter through, is meaning. If both the music and lyrics speak to me, we have a winner.

Recently, I felt very privileged when a friend made me privy to several songs he is currently working on as part of a band, “The Screaming Zucchinis”. I am no music critique, but to me their music is amazing; I love the intricacy of cleverly mixing rock, pop, indie, metal, waltz and even classic inflexions. And their lyrics range from quirky to beauty. And then the other way around.
Naturally, I jumped at the chance of meeting and interviewing the men behind the magic.

So under the hat today is a very special composer. His music has travelled around the world, covering all genres. He has worked in the film industry, as a sound recordist and composer but he enjoys equally jamming and making music with like-minded friends. Despite his impressive career, he doesn’t blow his own horn (if you pardon the pun) and leads a very discreet existence in the Canberran suburbs.
I didn’t know Harvey beforehand but his reputation had preceded him. Having sampled the beauty of his music, I felt a bit like I knew him since forever. What I didn’t know was that I was about to discover a very complex artist. One that I found a lot of affinities with; such as our love for painting and arts generally, our common appreciation for the city of Barcelona, or our similar upbringings in small communities – his in a country town, mine - in a small village. And we both still have those surreal dreams where you are flying high in the sky.

Entering Harvey’s studio is definitely a feast of senses. Magic in a shed! - and to paraphrase a Doctor Who quote, his studio is definitely bigger on the inside. There is no way one can be prepared for what they will discover once they pass through that door. Sound equipment, lots of instruments – naturally, but my eyes popped on seeing so much colour, from the many paintings hanging on every wall. A dreamy, unique atmosphere where I instantly relaxed and stepped into that very dream. Later on, I was going to hear the story of how Harvey designed his studio.

His vision of music is very original: - Music is very much like a painting. The kick drums are the black, the cymbals are the white. All the other instruments are the colours you add in your painting. You have the dark and the light – you need contrast; so you need to put the right instruments together – that is how you create texture, just like in a painting.

I always wanted to be a musician. When I was 4 or 5, I was taken next door to my neighbour’s kid’s bedroom. In those times, when a kid had the measles, we were taken to get it too and be done with it. So I got the measles; I was in a dark room, feverish. It was a bit like a hallucination but that is when I knew I wanted to be a musician. I didn’t want to just sing or play instruments; I wanted to write the music too, I wanted to create it – I just didn’t know how to express it then.

When I was 6 I had a dream about losing one hand and I thought; if that happened, I’d have to kill myself; how could I make music with one hand? Some years later, at my grandmother’s funeral I saw someone playing a trumpet with one hand. On seeing that, I thought well, I won’t kill myself then; I can still make music if that ever happens.
I don’t think of my dream back then as a premonition.
(Lifting his palm up, pointing at a hardened tendon) - Recently I have been diagnosed with a Scandinavian/Celtic genetic condition (Dupuytren's contracture) which will affect the use of my hand. Maybe it’s possible that time doesn’t exist as a defined timeline. What you dream as a 6 year old can be what happens at 66 years old of age.

My favourite story was “Peter Pan”. I loved the idea of always being young. In a sense, if I were to look at myself, I would still be that little boy. And I loved the idea of flying. I always had – and still have dreams about flying. I dream almost every night that I am flying – it’s a great feeling. I have been told once that usually dreams about flying disappear around the end of puberty . And I thought “Really? Coz I am still dreaming them”.

Coming out of high school, I knew I wanted to be a composer. I went to art school though; it was hard enough for my family in a country town to accept the idea of their adopted son wanting to be an artist; let alone be a composer. Those days, boys were usually involved with footy, tennis - sports generally.
So I didn’t tell them that I wanted to be a composer. I went to Arts School and I learned everything I could. I made films, paintings… – I started to draw and paint at an early age.
I was about 6 when I had a tantrum that I must have a piano teacher. I took about 6 months of piano lessons before my teacher left town. After that I watched and learned from other players.

My innermost dream is to go on learning; to never stop learning. And that covers everything really; to be better at music till the day I die but also to be better at life.
I don’t have any hidden dreams; I never let myself being that insulated; I just don’t stand up and shout about it.
The one thing that keeps me going is curiosity. I always want to know what happens next. My motivation also comes from curiosity.

Where do I see myself in 5 years’ time? I surely hope that Chris (Holly, bandmate, artist and friend) and I would have written a lot more music together and I hope that I would still be happy.

I have not confessed it to Harvey just yet, but I have their demo songs on my playlist. One of the reasons I enjoy listening to their music is the fact that they can take a listener through a whole range of emotions in very short time. A timeless instrumental piece like “Blue turns Green” made me nostalgic, thinking instantly of the ocean and of Gauguin and his bluish-green palm leaves shadows. Then there’s the simple beauty of a crisp, winter day within the lyrics of “It’s not raining”. On the other hand, one cannot help but appreciate the humour in pieces like “Walking with Jesus”. There are also lyrics with a deeper meaning, like “When it’s my time to go” but the quirkiness of their band lyrics kicks in from the start.
- The idea of our band’s name, “The Screaming Zucchinis” comes from one of our songs. Megan the Vegan goes to one of these all you can eat cafes and she hears the zucchinis screaming while they are being cooked. She can’t eat them. There is nothing for her to eat.

I always ask my sitters what they would do, if they were granted those 15 minutes of fame. In Harvey’s case it’s a hard question to place contextually, because his life-long career has met more than the 15 minutes, at more than one time. So I asked him to answer it from any temporal perspective, be it the next 15 minutes, sometimes in the future, or from the perspective of his entire career.
- It’s a difficult question. I would probably do what I am doing; addressing things that I have always addressed - my art, my music, my life – I would try to use it all positively.

-My first role model was Pop Vinning; my grandfather on my mother’s side. He was a business man with a great sense of humour. I don’t have a role model now; I gave up on the idea of role models long time ago. There are people I admire, but not role models – too many too mention.

Of course I had to ask what Harvey’s favourite book is. I am always fascinated to hear what the others like or feel inspired by.
It may sound strange, but I really enjoyed the Harry Potter books – it gives hope that there is still magic somewhere out there and that the good always wins – you hope so.

- Biggest regrets? Don’t know; I don’t think I have too many regrets or none at all. There is always an “I should have done’ or an “I shouldn’t have done”, but that is ridiculous in a way, because you don’t learn without mistakes.

Harvey’s studio is one of the best places I have seen in a while. It inspires dreaming and freedom. I asked him to tell me about it.
- It took about a month to bring it to this shape. I don’t know whether you noticed, but there are no straight walls – this way no standing waves occur. The way I designed it, no matter where you are in this room, it will sound the same. The Paintings? I wanted to be in a tropical scene; I had a heap of watercolours and paints, I made papier mache and fiddled around. It works as a studio but also as an inspirational place, where people will feel free to create and at ease. I made the inside of my head into a building. My paintings are a mirror of an emotional thing rather than an intellectual approach.There is some thought into them, and a lot of dreaming too.

I asked Harvey if he has any favourite and which is his best work to date. His answer didn’t surprise me:
- It’s always the one I am working on.

How does he get his ideas? Does life experience have a say in it? And is he always up for writing lyrics? How does collaboration work for Harvey?
- Usually, creating music is about allowing the song to be what it is. If you sit down and say “I am going to write a song and it is about this…” – you just can’t do that, you are cursing yourself. You’re doomed! But if you allow it to take shape, words will rhyme, work will flow. Some other times, I work with the others and we build it as we go along. Usually I like to meet people before working with them.
Working with (bandmate) Chris is a great collaboration; there are no egos – we improvise as we go along. Sometimes he picks up the guitar and I pick up the base guitar. Sometimes I pick the guitar, he plays the piano. Or I play the piano, it doesn’t matter. Sometimes I do the vocals and then I think Chris’s voice is a better fit – we find the harmony as we shape the songs. It usually falls into places as we jam.

While music is his true call, Harvey is also engaging with other arts too: - I do paintings, I have done sculptures - I don’t really think about it, I just do it.

What motivates him better: Success or Failure? - Neither. This is just what I do.

I felt at ease meeting Harvey and we had a good giggle about the fact that I cannot tell 2 notes apart. On hearing that Freddie Mercury’s “Barcelona” is one of my favourite albums of all times, he played me his “Barcelona” song he wrote a while ago. It is one of the cities I love most and I could tell that he has been there – his song had it all: Las Ramblas, the Sun, the passion... Then he launched into another beautiful piece and when I asked about it, he just simply stated he made it up on the spot. I wished I could have taken these songs with me. In fact, I wished I had recorded the entire interview. Much later, the hilarity of this kicked in: we were in a recording studio, yet I was lamenting I haven’t recorded our interview.

Making Harvey’s portrait was not an easy task; I felt almost irreverent for taking photos, instead of sitting down and listening while he played for me. I cannot do both well at the same time and I let myself distracted. At times, I was listening instead of minding what I was doing with my camera, shooting mechanically without putting thoughts in it. Some other times, I did concentrate on the camera and was missing out on the true beauty of the songs. I left his studio taking with me a lot of wisdom from our encounter and he was very kind to gift me one of his instrumental albums, “Gumi on the Sogeri".

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