Mark Harris: The Angry Child

In outlining the working process that brought The Angry Child into being, Mark Harris explains that he first gathered together a large number of samples, software patches, field recordings, and customized software applications, and then organically worked through stages of editing, improvising, and reworking until the material assumed its final form. More pointedly, he likens the process to an iceberg where the final piece is the material that “floats above the surface, and under the surface is the mass of unused material which never sees the light of day.” It's an analogue that's relevant in more than one respect: not only does it apply to his artistic approach but also to the sonic character of the result. For regardless of the recording's title and its six indexed track titles, the material possesses an ice-like veneer that's as hard and impenetrable as a glacier. Perhaps recognizing that such a sound might be a bit too cold for comfort, Harris sprinkles his electroacoustic material with ambient piano playing in a way that warms and humanizes the album and offsets the icy perfection of its synthesizer-like timbres.

Harris also notes that, upon listening back to the finished work, he was struck by how much it evoked for him the rural Norfolk landscape in the UK where he spent time as a boy, and where, presented with such an endless flat landscape, he would witness the light, clouds, and weather gradually changing and the sea and sky merging together. Even if the listener doesn't experience the exact same association (though field recordings of crashing wave sounds in the final part certainly strengthen the possibility), there's no question Harris's material will engender associations of some likely peaceful and meditative kind within said listener. He also strengthens the impression of endlessly extending vistas by having all six pieces follow one another without interruption, and consequently one experiences The Angry Child less as a collection of distinct pieces united by a shared sound design and instead as a long-form ambient-symphonic opus. And symphonic it definitely is, nowhere more so than during the fifth part, “Before You Wake_Or the Fool Who Mimics the Sun,” wherein ambient spaces are flooded with the shimmer of orchestral strings.

It hardly surprises that Harris's background is in visual arts, given how strongly The Angry Child presents itself as a serene scene-painting that one absorbs over a forty-seven-minute span rather than all at once as one might a gallery image. Not only is it a beautiful-sounding and thoroughly immersive work, it satisfies equally on intellectual and emotional levels, and from start to finish Harris shows himself to be an expert handler of balance, pacing, and resolution.

March 2014