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A Harp Goes Against the Clock

What happens when you bring a harp to a digital-workstation fight?

What happens when you bring a harp to a digital-workstation fight? Watch this video of Mary Lattimore in the magazine Fact‘s Against the Clock series to find out.

Fact’s long-running series pits one musician at a time against themselves. In each edition (there are 150 or so as of this writing) of Against the Clock, the featured musician makes a track in one sitting of 10 minutes or under, recorded and presented uncut. The overwhelming majority of videos are from the fields of techno and hip-hop, and related beat-driven music. Even when a seeming outlier such as James McNew, representing his band Yo La Tengo, shows up, as he did in a video last month, the result is beatcraft, not necessarily the indie rock a Yo La Tengo might expect.

Just yesterday, Against the Clock featured the harp player Mary Lattimore, who in ten minutes is seen looping her harp atop itself over and over. What the session yields is a beautiful track, but not until Lattimore, who records for the Ghostly International label, has eked all manner of sounds from the beast of an instrument. Not only does she send cascades of plucked strings against themselves, plotting out deep spaces with varying volume levels — a cathedral made of sonic pixels — but she bangs against it with a metal ring and scrapes the strings, among other techniques, to make the most of her singular tool. At times she puts aside the harp and concentrates directly on the looper in which she is collecting and collating elements of her live playing.

Video originally posted at Fact’s YouTube channel. While the response so far has been largely positive, not every beat-oriented Aginst the Clock watcher was a fan (“i’m not watching this vid series to see someone play the harp for 10min….. jeeez” wrote one commenter). More from Lattimore, who lives in Los Angeles, at marylattimore.net and marylattimoreharpist.bandcamp.com.

By the way, the only reason this video isn’t included in my ever-expanding YouTube playlist of fine live ambient performances is because toward the very end there is a brief interview with Lattimore. The interview is informative. It’s just that including a video with dialog would break the intended flow of the playlist.

By Marc Weidenbaum

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