Kety Fusco ~ THE HARP, Chapter One

We expect some form of this sentence to appear in every review of Kety Fusco‘s THE HARP, Chapter One: leave your assumptions behind.  These may include the opinion that harp music is boring, an association of harps with churches and a nagging thought that if the soundtrack of heaven is angels playing harps, we may jump off a cloud.

While Fusco doesn’t exactly celebrate the other place (the home of heavy metal, pitchforks and perhaps the staff of Pitchfork magazine), she splays her dark heart all over the press release.  She writes, “This is what is left of my body. My harp has destroyed every melodic form of its sound because it died with me. My world is running out and pouring out its rage on me. I will be dead and I will burn in the fire of my home.”  Fusco wants her music to leave “a bitter taste.”  She constructs the album from components of a horror soundtrack.  But while harp music creates expectations of the soothing and staid, and the press release leads one to expect something brooding and dark, the truth is somewhere in-between.

THE HARP, Chapter One is dynamic, exciting and unpredictable, defying expectations of what a harp album should sound like.  The music is melodic, percussive, and propulsive ~ a manipulation of sounds from the wooden and electric harp, along with embedded objects that spark the phrase “prepared harp” ~ horsehair, hair pins, hair dryers, wax, all fed through an electronic filter.  The dissection of the harp (wood, metal, gut) leads to unexpected sonorities; after this, Fusco plans to unveil a new harp for the new century.

The introduction of singles is a fascinating entry point, considering the fact that they are parts of a whole: a 19-minute composition that is only a third of the final work.  In the latest video, “Starless,” one can see the artist’s creativity at work, as well as her love for extremes.  Despite the imagery of fire and flood, tornado and volcano, Fusco is the most interesting visual subject, and we wish we could see more.  The segment is based on the closing part of the above statement:  “I am already ashes, ashes of a world that has thought of the most concrete and superficial things, and what remains is a world without stars.”

The full composition starts in a more humble fashion, with soft drones creating a base for the first plucks.  There’s no mistaking that this is a harp; the core sounds still remain Fusco’s first love.  The drones lengthen as the piece’s prevailing melodies are introduced, establishing a consistent tempo.  Sub-melodies deepen the texture.  At the halfway point, declarative notes signal a shift to a more dramatic tone.  Then an interlude, a melange of abstractions that sets the stage for “STARLESS.”  It’s easy to imagine the piece being adopted by a modern dance group.  To hear all three parts, one will need to see Fusco live, beginning at the Royal Albert Hall on March 3; the rest of us will wait with bated breath, eager to witness the next iteration of this classic instrument.  (Richard Allen)

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