What makes “Draft” – the latest CD from Hairetis Harper (comprised of Yiagos Hairetis and Marie-Christina Harper) – unique and familiar at the same time is that the music explores moods and harmonies while playing on (literally) the characteristics of different instruments with strings. Combining the qualities of the Cretan lute and electric harp, the album’s seven tracks meander into the sounds of music from Crete while, for example, inventively showing up with the cowboy vibe of “Lost in the City,” a mysterious and sultry tune. “Bells” uses well-woven themes that come to life in a crashing culmination; and “Meadow” has flavorful harmonies that shimmer and illuminate. The subtleties are the strengths here, with small embellishments, note-bending, and occasionally exploiting the metallic qualities of those strings all contributing to the feeling of a lush musical tapestry.
Talk about how each of you came to play your instruments.
Maria Christina: I saw a cartoon, “The Aristocats,” that involved cats that played the piano and sang. And at some point, they are lost, it starts raining and an alley cat finds them and takes them at a shelter where cats wearing cool sunglasses play jazz. After a while one of the fluffy cats starts playing the harp with them. That’s when I knew what I wanted to do in my life and I was four years old.
Yiagos: I started with the mandolin as a kid and then I picked other string instruments like the guitar and then lute.
How did you meet and what were the circumstances under which you decided to collaborate here?
We met through a mutual friend and a few years later we were at a coffee place in Crete and talked about music and life and how we both were interested at that point to experiment and see what would happen.
How long had you been writing these tracks?
On the first day we rehearsed, Intro, our first track of our album was created. Our goal was to play and keep things and moments we liked. So, even when we started playing live, our music was still being shaped. Within a year we had the structure of our pieces with enough space to allow for improvisation.
How did production go for you?
It all felt as if it happened effortlessly. Everything progressed naturally. From the moment we ‘randomly’ decided to try and play together, we felt inspired, gigs were easily booked by our manager and recording felt like a nice way to have an end result from this music journey.
How did you come across this unique way to play the lute and can you describe it?
Yiagos: I grew up listening to rock and obviously Cretan music so the way I play comes from these influences.
How much of this album has elements of the folk/heritage music?
Yiagos: Despite that the lute is fundamentally linked with the Cretan music tradition, the musical style of our album is also shaped and influenced by our collaboration and the elements that each of us bring.
MC: It’s interesting how we perceive experiences, images and sounds. Yiagos and I have had this discussion many times. When I hear our music it is quite obvious to me that Crete is in it. I think naturally the elements are there because half of the band is from Crete and then the other half isn’t so I think we balance it beautifully. Our different backgrounds broaden our perspective.
What scales or modes are primarily used in this music?
MC: As musicians we are trained to study, practice, listen and practice more in order to develop our technique and to search for our sounds, the sound that could become our second voice. While this should be an ongoing process, there is a time where you feel confident enough to forget about everything you’ve learnt and just play. In that sense we never had rules on scales or styles of music that we would play, we just played and stayed open to what could happen.
Looking back what we did realize was that there was a flow and we felt balanced in our dynamics. When the lute was playing more rhythmically and stayed longer on a chord, then the harp would try to ‘break’ that pattern by providing more harmony on an off-beat.
What do you like about the improvisation process?
Yiagos: It is the basis of music, the beauty of the moment which reflects the feelings and environment. Important when playing is to feel connected with yourself and the universe, also with the audience.
MC: The uniqueness of it, the unknown aspect of what can happen. Improvisation, when prepared musically, feels like an opportunity with endless possibilities.
What do you like about the duet configuration, and does it provide for more intensity in crafting harmonies?
MC: The timbre of the instruments, our contrasting music experiences and our different worlds create an interesting base to build on. Contrast is always an interesting element when used wisely and in our case it feels that it only helps create a deep and dynamic flow.
What elements of avant-garde jazz appeals to you and how did you utilize that mindset to create the music?
MC: Since I can remember I wanted to do something different with the harp. I grew up with classical music as I studied classical harp and piano, but in my spare time I would listen to rock, blues, country and a lot of 70s psychedelic rock. Improvisation was something that always interested me and breaking old boundaries and creating a space where anything was possible was one of the things that made me get lost into the music. It is beautiful to form a musical relationship without any given rules and ideas beforehand, just allow yourself to be open and most importantly to be able to listen deeply to what is happening. I also did an MA in music therapy in London and listening and free improvising has been a key element to communicate, listen and try to understand another human being.
How do these tracks interrelate or are they each separate works with different inspirations?
Yiagos: They are individual stories in each track. At the same time they are based on an improvisational process and were shaped during our tour.
MC: I think the tracks interrelate because Hairetis and Harper interrelate. Our personalities, us coming to know each other through music, is what one hears on our album “Draft.” We had no idea where this would all lead us, but our intention was to be inspired by each other’s story and try and play with that.
How do you use dissonance and complex rhythms to achieve your musical goals?
Yiagos: When you are united with your basic rhythm it comes out spontaneously. There is no disharmony or harmony; you are in the rhythm and this is pulsating.
MC: We had no discussion before our allocated rehearsal slots. Everything that happened in the music was either a musical action or a musical reaction to what had just been suggested from the other person. What I found interesting at points was that when I felt that there was a specific genre, i.e., a more folk sound to our improv, I tried to introduce a totally different sound and rhythm to see if our worlds could coincide.
What are your hopes for this CD?
MC: It fulfilled our need to record our ideas and put them into an end product, an album.
Yiagos: Also, to tour with it when possible and then create a second album.
How do you get the word out with lockdown still in place?
We are fortunate to have an amazing manager and label who make sure more and more people will hear our album and the response has been amazing! Of course, our Facebook and bandcamp page is always up to date and it’s easy to find us under our band name ‘Hairetis Harper.’
Trying to stay positive, we hope that we will soon be able to perform for a live audience and hopefully one day come to the US and present this album there too. Until then, it is a more quiet time, a time to catch up with ourselves, time to develop and evolve, experiment and breathe…and when this is all over, hopefully the world and each and every one of us will be happier and living in a more conscious way.
For more information visit https://orcd.co/hairetis-harper_draft.
Photos courtesy of and with permission of the artists.
(c) 2021 Debbie Burke