For Gregory Harris, the process of becoming a composer was one of absorption. By opening himself to soak up an unbounded array of sounds, influences, and genres — a process he began formally at age 6, with piano lessons at his grandfather’s bench — he has lived a life of near-constant immersion in music.
His childhood years of youth orchestras, chamber music and piano recitals led next to writing music for some of the small ensembles he played with. The first time he heard one of those ensembles play a piece of his music, the experience supercharged his passion for composition.
Harris’ young adult years were lived unrolling his sleeping bag at music festivals, busking with a saxophone and boom box in London’s subways where he earned enough to make a spare-change living, and traveling in a van as the keyboardist for a Top-40 cover band called Too Cool For School on a tour of the finest dive bars of California, Arizona, and Utah. “Freebird” and “Don’t Stop Believin’” were on heavy rotation.
At CalArts, where Harris worked with a youth program, music by modern composers — Babbitt, Partch, Subotnick, Steve Reich, Ligeti — bled through the rehearsal room walls, seeped into the hallways and into Harris’ musical imagination. Much of his work that followed blended progressive rock with classical music, and Harris created it with a plethora of sound sources: samples, electric guitar, mandocello, stand up bass, percussion, and 5 string electric violin. Not satisfied with the instruments available, Harris also began to work with instruments he built, found, and scrounged: tape loops, a kit-built hurdy gurdy, a $10 garage sale zither, a Scotland tourist’s souvenir shop bagpipe, plastic water jugs rattling with beads. A later project, a flirtation with the sounds of animated cartoons employed a slide whistle, bamboo flutes, a kit-made hammered dulcimer, and a hundred-plus year-old marimba that, according to the newspaper classified ad, had travelled from village to village in Guatemala on the back of a burro.
Later projects include work as a member of the Los-Angeles based composers organization California Outside Music Association, writing the soundtrack for a short film honoring Olympia Dukakis, creating a soundscape to accompany an exhibition of work by Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros, and composing works for Quercus, a fusion band.
Over the years he has written a collection of Art Pieces for piano, as well as a collection of fugues. He is currently completing a piano studies book for the autodidact, based upon his decades of private piano instruction.
Philosophically, Harris finds the idea of ‘artistic identity’ as something fluid, saying, “For each piece, the challenge is to find ‘its voice’, waiting to be released”.
String Quartet # 1 is Harris’ first collaboration with The Sirius Quartet and Navona Records.