Hermione Harvestman – `A Harvest of Souls: Requiem for Dancers (Unseen)’
The story of Hermione Harvestman is a fascinating one, a woman who felt haunted by music and saw her creative process as one, not of creation, but exorcism of sonic spirits. She was born in 1930, a classically trained pianist who went on to play church organ in rural County Durham. She was a prolific musician working in many genres composing for her own need, the local church and even amateur theatrical productions. Abandoning the piano at the age of 26 when she was introduced to the Clavivox, an early sequencer-cum-synthesiser. On discovering the Clavivox Hermione said ‘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 mind-set 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.’ Hermione lived and worked in the county in which I grew up, it is both wonderful and sorrowful to discover that such a fascinating character who created such a vast library, lived so near and yet I only become aware of her years after her death.
“A harvest of Souls: Requiem for Dancers (Unseen)” is one of 12 albums of her work she selected prior to her death in May of 2012 and collected together by Sedayne. The album is a suite of 8 improvised pieces, comprised of blissful yet haunting synth works performed live and recorded in the chapel house of York Minster in 1973. In the accompanying text on the bandcamp page Hermione describe her remit as “Being simple enough, to provide a sequence of improvisations prescribed in terms of duration and “mood” each relating to particular ideas in the programme and arrived at by intuitively reacting to the movements of the shadowy dancers”. The album begins with notes which sound almost plucked, gorgeous synth tones allowed breath and flow leaving space between each as the melodies become ever more intricate. As the album progresses the sound becomes fuller never overbearing and conjure thoughts both ancient and futuristic. The melodies at times sound almost medieval however the tone palette is pure monophonic electronica of the most beautiful order. The pieces switch between the melodic tonal and slightly droney with emphasis on harmoincs, all allow the sonic richness of the instrument to be expressed in a wonderful reverby sonic backdrop. As I listened I found myself thinking of ancients contemplating the heavens and the future, how alien yet familiar such music would sound to them. The entire album is a joy to behold however my favourite pieces are parts 7 and 8 (the closing two) which contain the most beautiful melodies and at times pre-figure Board of Canada’s woozy tape delayed sound. The album is available at hermioneharvestman.bandcamp.com and I cannot recommend it enough a sublime piece of synth improvisation.
(http://hermioneharvestman.bandcamp.com/album/a-harvest-of-souls-1973)(Reviewed by Antony Wealls –
Equestrian Vortex andThe Mortlake Bookclub