Mark Harris: In the forests_the animals are moving

It's one thing to organize sound materials into a satisfying five- to ten-minute composition; doing so effectively for the full measure of a forty-seven-minute piece is something else altogether. Obviously it's more difficult for the composer to bring a work's arc into focus when such a long duration is involved, and handling the transitions, modulations, and progressions in such a way that they happen organically and at their proper moment is likewise no easy task. Such a preamble is a circumlocutory way of saying that Mark Harris has done a remarkable job of meeting such challenges in his latest release In the forests_the animals are moving. Sustaining balance and keeping a clear handle on the overall concept of a piece for such an extended time are considerable challenges that Harris has met impressively.

While it is possible to determine where one of the work's five sections ends and the next begins, the listener is more likely to experience In the forests_the animals are moving as a single, gradually unfolding composition. It's not a pure ambient work, either, even if there are ambient elements, such as New Age-styled tinklings and synthetic whooshes, present; if anything, it more slots itself into the electro-acoustic modern composition genre. Harris's ties to the minimalist tradition are also evidenced in the work's restrained sound design and his focused concentration on ridding the material of anything superfluous.

Though electronics, field recordings and processed guitar form part of the sound mix, the work grew out of early-2014 experiments Harris undertook using modular synthesis processes to simulate the harmonic properties of bell tones. After an introductory section dominated by stormy seaside field recordings, those glassy tones surface to give In the forests_the animals are moving its defining character. The piece advances slowly, but it's hardly lacking in drama and incident, and the music's organic development keeps the listener engaged as he/she attends to the material's insistent ebb and flow. A generally serene ambiance establishes itself, despite the occasional swell in intensity that occurs when sheets of electric guitar textures surge above the sound mass.

The coherence of the composition's shape gradually declares itself so convincingly that Harris's own assertion that the project involved “very little preplanning” comes as something of a surprise. What he presumably means, however, is not that little thought was given to the composition's form (as clearly a great deal of thought was devoted to it as the work developed) but that it evolved in natural manner without an excess of predetermination as to what the outcome would be. And that title, in case you're wondering? It originated from dreams Harris had where he found himself alone in a forest at night and used a repeating bell tone for orientation to help guide him out of the woods and avoid the wild animals he could hear moving about.

February 2016