‘Aeolian Harp Sounds’:
In 1999, I designed an Aeolian Harp within a sculpture that would assist the wind flow across the strings, and provide a suitable resonant space in which people could enjoy the sounds. In 2000, I constructed a small working model for display in the Christchurch Botanical Gardens as part of ‘Scape: New Zealand Community Trust Art + Industry’ Urban Arts Biennial 2002.
Aeolian Harps are magical instruments played by the wind. Traditionally, all the strings are tuned to the same pitch, but on this recording the strings have been tuned randomly. The variety of sounds that an Aeolian Harp can produce is astonishing: always ethereal and beautiful. I have been elated with the success of the project and the response from the public. Both the sounds of the harp and the instrument itself seem to have a cognisant persona that has lead me on a spellbinding journey for the last twenty-five years.
Over this time, I have developed the design to include several unique innovations such as bridges that allow the strings to lie perpendicular to the soundboard as opposed to parallel to it. In some ways, I feel that as a composer, this is the first project where I have had some real communication with the community. in other ways, however, I often feel that it is not I doing the communicating: rather it is Gaia or some undefined sentient energy that embodies the earth. All I have done is simply construct a device that ‘unlocks’ these sounds. To me, this is why the sounds have such a magical, even spiritual quality. These sounds are best played softly.
While making this piece, I was enthralled by my daughter’s experimentation with language, at the age of nineteen months. Recognisable English words were freely mingled with streams of idiosyncratic verbal utterance, and while meaning was often obscure to adult ears, patterns of words and sounds were repeated in a way that was clearly linguistic. The title of the piece is one of these patterns, which she used frequently, and which I am still unable to translate. To me, such playfulness suggests musical processes. Almost from birth, the toys which most held her attention were those which made sounds. In response to this, I had recorded a collection of the toys which had most fascinated her around the age of seven months. Nearly a year later, the sounds finally accumulated into a musical shape. I can only dream of recapturing for myself the inventiveness of a young child, but the observation of the child’s manipulation of sound and meaning leaves its traces in my work.
The word “chimaera” has two definitions: firstly, an organism which consists of two genetically distinct tissues (in much the same manner as this piece); secondly, the creature of Greek mythology with a lion’s head, a serpent’s tail and a goat’s body – an apt metaphor for the strange half-worlds that are able to be realised through the techniques of electroacoustic composition.