Saturday, 15 June 2013

Hermione Harvestman (1930 -2012)


This Soundcloud page (click above image) is devoted to the work of outsider minimalist / experimental electronic composer & improviser Hermione Harvestman (1930 - 2012).  As prolific as she was (wilfully) obscure, her music resides in its meticulously archived abundance, unheard by all but a few close friends and members of the congregation of a small Roman Catholic church in rural Durham where she played the organ between 1967 and 1995, regularly featuring one of her sacred 'Concrete Psalm Tones' in lieu of organ music during Holy Communion or The Adoration of the Cross on Good Friday.  She also composed music for several amatuer theatrical productions - the best of which being the starkly evocative & exquisite medieval miniatures she produced for 'The Durham Pilgrims' in 1972 which takes its cue from Chaucer.  A devout Roman Catholic all of her life (up until her illness and death), Hermione nevertheless incorporated elements of Folklore, Medievalism, Paganism, Astrology, Earth Mysteries and Cosmology into her world view, viewing her compositions in terms of personal devotions to the various aspects of her life, the vast majority of which were never meant for public consumption.  In her own words: 

'It may sound conceited, but no other music appeals to me as much as the music I make on my own. Therefore I do not seek an audience for it, nor do I do it purely for pleasure.  Music is a necessity I face on a daily basis - I think of it mostly as a curse - it haunts my dreams, and insists on being made corporeal.  The only way I can get it out, is to record it.  Recording is part of the musical process.  Recording is an exorcism.  Recording is the containment of demons so I might keep them like imps in jars and revisit them, at a distance, once the trauma of their creation has passed.

'It would, I feel, be supremely arrogant to expect anyone else to listen to my music when I have so effectively rejected the music of others.  I have listened to medieval music, folk music, classical music, popular music. experimental music - but only in passing, as part of the general ambience of the culture in which I find myself.  I have studied music in theory and practise and upon graduation I rejected it wholesale as being of no interest or relevance to me whatsoever, and yet its influence and inspiration persists in my life to such an extent I can't help but respond to it.  In my life I have haunted folk clubs and libraries of both Folk Song and the sacred and secular music of the middle ages, always seeking the pure heart of the thing, as might the Theologian, digging as deep as one can to touch the very bedrock of this thing we call music.'

A classically trained concert pianist from the age of four, she abandoned the piano at 26, when, in 1956, she was introduced to the Clavivox - an early sequencer-cum-synthesiser keyboard invented by Raymond Scott.

'This was my epiphany - it one stroke it solved all my problems with regard to Western Tonality.  Increasingly, I was drawn to monophonic music and modality, but I was ill prepared to join the elite who called themselves Folk Musicians or Early Musicians; bourgeois sub-sects striving for an authenticity so enamoured of a certain mindset which I'd never been able to relate to.  Neither was I too enamoured of Atonal Experimentalism.  The music I heard in my heard was far richer than that, somehow - at least it was to me.  I dreamed of hurdy-gurdies - of drones and monophonic keyboards playing parallel 3rds, 4ths and 5ths.  In reality, hurdy-gurdies sounded ghastly (with significant exception).  On hearing the Clavivox I heard the music that dreamed of astrological continuities between ancient music and future possibilities; it touched the essence of what music was at its most primal - that of both the planets of the Pyramids; that of the stars and Stonehenge.'

In her home (a remote small-holding in rural County Durham which she shared with several dogs, cats, pigs, geese and goats) she set up an ever evolving studio which would be regularly upgraded as new technologies came along.  In the last decade of her life, much of her time was devoted to the transfer of analogue tape-stock to the digital mediums she embraced wholeheartedly.

'I feel like Alfred Wainwright - we are both solitary ramblers - he made his books so he could look at them when he was no longer physically capable of rambling his beloved Lakeland Fells.  In a similar way I have made my music as the accompaniment of my dotage - my declining years when I'm no longer inclined to compose, but to listen - as I do - endlessly - surrounding myself with my compositions in an atmosphere of smiling pride.  Did I really do that?  My goodness - the gift becomes all the more precious as I have gifted it to myself.  So transferring all these old tapes and cassettes and copying them onto CD-R, MP3 and i-Pod has become a revelation - but only unto myself and maybe one or two others, but no more.'

Two things about Hermione's music are worth pointing out here.  The first is that, although immersed into various new technologies (in which she viewed redundancy with wry delight), she completely eschewed the idea of multi-tracking.  The second thing is that all of her music is completely improvised.

The music starts with silence, it comes from nothing, I might begin by establishing a drone, or an ostinato, for this I employ a sequencer, tape loops together with various echo, delay and reverb units to effect the landscapes of a particular piece.  The process is as simple and intuitive as it is completely organic.  In this intuitive landscape melody is introduced on the synthesiser.  I might reference melodies from medieval music and folk song, but always intuitively.  I work with monophonic modes, mostly using only the white notes, often using parallel 4ths and 5ths by way of an entirely improvised organum.  I have tried multi-tracking but it lacks the immediate energy for me.  I think of it as Temporal Spontaneity where all things exist in their own space and time.  It's a sort of purity, a way of simplifying music process which to me can sound overly prescriptive, over-wrought and quite terrifyingly bland.  The bland does terrify me - from the machined landscapes of our once beautiful countryside to the culture of reductive normalcy which has reduced us to a nation of cretins.

I first met Hermione in 2003 following the minor stroke that landed her in the nursing home where by chance I was doing a short residency in my guise as Storyteller.  It was here, over the space of five days, she slowly opened up to me, letting me in on the secrets of her hermetic world view and the music that was so much a part of that.  I assisted her with the daunting task of digitising her analogue archive for easier access, but she resisted by suggestions of seeking a wider audience for her work for several years until after a second, more serious stroke after which she agreed to permit some of her music to be made available following her death.  To this end she selected 12 albums worth of material edited from her wider archive, from which she edited two hours to be uploaded onto Soundcloud the year after her funeral.

Hermione Harvestman passed away on the last day of May 2012; her funeral was held on the 7th of June.  This page, and its accompanying blog, was begun exactly a year later.  There are no photographs of the reclusive Hermione, though she was a keen photographer, surrounding herself with indistinct images of trees, landscapes, rivers and medieval carvings along with countless postcards gathered from museums and galleries over the years, all of which she used as a visual inspiration for her music.  All the images here are taken from this visual archives.

I hope you find something in this music which, I feel, is as familiar as it is utterly strange; the work of an eccentric, for sure, but such idiosyncrasy is worthy of our enduring attention and, indeed, affection.

Sedayne. June 2013.     

Thursday, 20 September 2012

Sedayne : Harvest Myth 2012

The fiddle part was field recorded in a wee medieval chuch somewhere near Dunstable on the morning of Sunday the 16th of September 2012, in passing, on a Zoom H4; the drone part was added on the morning of Thursday the 20th of September in the Barley Temple, Lancashire in real time against the (mostly) unedited fiddle improvisation. The theme is an old one - Harvest Myth - which came to me in a dream some 24 years ago. In the dream I worked in the fields with my ancestors, and this was the melody of their work song, which I made a recording of soon as I woke up. It's been with me ever since, revisited some years by way of renewal and continuity, as is the case here.

The image comes from Whipsnade Zoo, nearby, later on the 16th. I love the colours and patterns of autumn, but the older I get I find myself shrinking more & more from the coming darkness. This music, poised on the equinox and anciently dreadfilled with the prospect of winter, is but one way of dealing with it...

Sedayne : violin / shruti box / drone : ka-pro, doromb, birds, beasts, flanger, delay, overtone flute.

Friday, 16 December 2011

Rapunzel & Sedayne : WINTERFLORA 2011

WINTERFLORA is an annexe to to main Rapunzel and Sedayne Soundcloud Page on which we're going to feature Songs of Light for the Dark Season, both from the archives and as we record them by way of session and rehearsal over the next few weeks.We'll be featuring them in our up coming gigs so there'll be some cross overs along the way, but as ever in different versions, all brightly shining and dusted down to bring a bit of sparkle to the proceedings...

There will be a WINTERFLORA CD-R featuring different versions of some of the material featured here.We'll be selling these at gigs, but if you'd like a copy message us at:

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Rapunzel & Sedayne : Three New Songs on Soundcloud

Recorded as during rehearsals for our Ballad gig at the Morpeth Northumbrian Gathering 2011, for which we were graced by pipe tunes by Matt Seattle and a very enthusiastic audience.  Some of the gig was filmed, hopefully soon it might make its way onto YouTube - for now here's a new version of Sedayne's very old setting of The Wee Wee Man by way of redux and renewal.  Picture courtesy of Ross Campbell, Rylands Library, Manchester, though the credit goes to Ann Breadin for having the idea in the first place...

Rapunzel & I were singing this together long before we actually spoke, circa 1994, and I'd been singing it since hearing Jim Eldon sing it a few years before that.  As with the Wee Wee Man this is by way of redux and renewal because it never comes out quite the same way either, being a vehicle for further invention, arrangement and improvisation.  Here Rapunzel uses her electro acoustic guitar, and Sedayne plays his wee Black Sea Fiddle, complete with real-time loopy drones from the Kaossilator as all dissolves into a dreamy haze, although this was December 2011, from rehearsals for our Sheffield gig, so the winter winds are suitably chill (as they were in snow-bound Sheffield).  The picture comes from earlier that Autumn, along the River Wyre by Skippool Creek which is one of our favourite haunts, tides permitting.  There's a version of this on Songs from the Barley Temple which will be released on Folk Police later in the year; similar but different; change being the heart and soul of the broader continuities what we still might call Folk Music...


Last but not least, is Rapunzel's setting of a Ron Baxter piece concerning the more supernatural beliefs of the Fleetwood fishing industry; the cares and concerns of life we might all share.  We do this as part of Demdyke, and it features in The Golden Dream as well, but here it's just the two of us in the Barley Temple with Rapunzel on her Daisy Rock Purple Heart electric guitar and me trying to be sentive on the crwth.  Quite different from our other stuff really as she lets her more contempory sensibilities come to the fore in this quite emotive wee piece of love, loss and enduring hope in the face of an all too bitter reality...

Thursday, 21 April 2011

Sedayne : Headland (Over the Hills) : April 21st 2011

This started as a version of Over the Hills and Far Away, but I dropped the vocal track and let the vistas open out into pure ambient revellry.  As it stands it becomes a piece of sea-side ambience inspired by lazing around the beach of late on tranquil sunny days looking over to Black Combe & Barrow-in-Furness from Cleveleys (click on above picture for the bigger view).  Essentially an improvisation on 5-string violin (C-string tuned up to D) with electric bass ostinato and various ambient drones & bleeps on the Kaossilator, the piece becomes a hommage to minimalism with obvious debts to be acknowledged to the Penguin Cafe, the Soft Machine, Gong and the Third Ear Band...

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Medieval Spring - Rapunzel & Sedayne on Soundcloud

We've got six songs up there just now, all studio demos, exquisitely crafted and fully downloadable reflecting various aspects of what we do with more to follow.  There's even the reworked version of Harp Song of the Dane Women, very different to that which features on OAK ASH THORN, and our 2009 version of VERIS DULCIS IN TEMPORE which celebrates the hornier aspects of Medieval secular verse...

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

An Oblique Parallax of English Speaking Folk Song - Part One

This is the first of what will be an ongoing series in which I'll be approaching Folk Songs from the English Speaking Tradition in a way that might be unfamiliar to those used the orthodox approach to such things but which nevertheless reflects a lifetime of singing, researching, loving & living the songs themselves.  That said, the inner-aesthetic here reflects not only the overall modality of the Traditional Idiom from which these songs arose, but the rusticity that was their natural habitat which distorts and obscures as an essential aspect of the hoary patina such material has acquired over the ages.

With that in mind, each piece will be accompanied by suitable imagery drawn from the vernacular idioms of medieval English Woodcarving which survives in our churches & cathedrals in the form of misericords, each tableau echoing analogous narrative concerns to those expressed in the songs.  Whilst such resonances are entirely intuitive they are nevertheless deserving of a wider consideration.

The link for each song is the title itself which will take you a free MP3 download via Rapidshare.

Sedayne, 22nd February 2011

Recorded : Friday 18th February 2011 - kaossilator / microcube / accursed viol & singing
Realised : Tuesday 22nd February 2011 - filters / Ableton Live
Photography : The Stalls of Manchester Cathedral, Saturday 12th February 2011

This is an improvisation recorded entirely live using 4 large diaphragm condensers - two for the amplifier & two for the viol & voice.  As with the initial improvisation, the secondary processing occured in real-time using the various filters & vinyl distortions of Ableton 3.  The piece is extended over a duration of 16 minutes, the first 11.40 of which are entirely instrumental, after which the song is intoned to an improvised melody  in approximation of the given (traditional?) melody.

I am a brisk lad but my fortune is bad and I am most wonderful poor.
Oh, indeed I intend my life for to mend and to build a house down on the moor, me brave boys
And to build a house down on the moor.

The farmer he do keep fat oxen and sheep in a neat little nag on the downs.
In the middle of the night when the moon do shine bright, there's a number of work to be done, me brave boys. There's a number of work to be done.

Then I'll roam all around in another man's ground and I'll take a fat sheep for my own.
Oh, I'll end his life by the aid of my knife and then I will carry him home, me brave boys,
And then I will carry him home.

And my children will pull the skin from the ewe and I'll be in a place where there's none.
When the constable do come, I'll stand with my gun and swear all I have is my own, me brave boys.
And swear all I have is my own.
(Source: Various, including A L Lloyd, Folk Song in England; presumably, therefore, traditional)