Name: Lara Somogyi
Nationality: American
Occupation: Harpist, composer
Current release: Lara Somogyi is currently preparing the release of her debut album for Mercury KX.  
Recommendations: Wendy Carlos’ Sonic Seasonings LP; Shantell Martin’s visual artwork; Es Devlin’s stage art

If you enjoyed this interview with Lara Somogyi, visit her profiles on Instagram, Facebook, Soundcloud, and twitter.

When did you start writing/producing/playing music and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?

I was playing piano and singing from age 4 and started learning the harp in primary school.

It was such a beautiful instrument and I was immediately drawn to its shape and the resonance and reverberations of the strings. The sonority was unlike I’d ever heard before and felt drawn to its round and resonant timbre instantly. I would play everything I could on the instrument and was obsessed with studying symphonic works and playing instrumental lines on the harp even if there wasn’t a harp part — like Beethoven’s 6th Symphony or Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos.

Perhaps that sparked my joy of writing and arranging songs that weren’t meant for the instrument which developed into my complete passion for wanting to explore the harp in its full sonic capacity and into contemporary worlds.

Some people experience intense emotion when listening to music, others see colours or shapes. What is your own listening experience like and how does it influence your approach to music?

I’m an highly emotive person and often absorb the emotions of others around me— this can happen when I experience art as well — I experience the emotions of everything around me as if it were my own. A piece of music or art can impact me for days which can also reflect in my music.

How would you describe your development as an artist in terms of interests and challenges, searching for a personal voice, as well as breakthroughs?

All of my fascination with sonic moments really started to take shape when I was studying at the Royal Academy of Music and found myself invigorated with improvisation and contemporary studies. It was about making momentary sonic statements that arose from that moment and that moment only. That was really thrilling for me because it felt very freeing and I realized that you could really take the harp anywhere you wanted to go, sonically, in those instances.

The melodies and fragments juxtaposed with the elegance and power of the harp felt limitless, and became a gateway for my compositions and developing my own personal voice.

Tell me a bit about your sense of identity and how it influences both your preferences as a listener and your creativity as an artist, please.

I find company and comfort in vast sonic expanses and exploration, which has ushered me to a renewed clarity of expression and identity with myself and the harp.

Because I like to explore on my own instrument, I’m very open to a lot of progressive and creative sounds in what I like to listen to. My favorite artists are the ones I feel are pushing the sonic envelope and using sounds creatively to make something expressive.

I am also highly impacted by my emotional response. I like to tap into that sensitivity when I’m creating and help it shape my creative voice.

What, would you say, are the key ideas behind your approach to music and art?

Expansiveness, enchantment, and exploration are what brings me most inspiration in my approach to music and art.

Merging contemporary techniques on the harp paired with the limitless tools of sound manipulation, and technology, inspires me to continuously explore the sounds and my inner expressions on the instrument I love so much. Diving into the world of electronics and discovering the enabling power of fx juxtaposed with the luscious and vast resonance of the harp, helps me shape and express whatever emotions fall out sonically.

I really love and feel inspired and invigorated by new sounds, shapes, and sonorities. So what brings me enchantment when working on music is ultimately exploration.

How would you describe your views on topics like originality and innovation versus perfection and Timelessness in music? Are you interested in a “music of the future” or “continuing a tradition”?

I absolutely admire and respect continuing a tradition and think it’s very important, however, I also am insistent on pushing the sonic boundaries of the harp and utilizing the instrument to its full sonic capacity. It’s such a striking vessel for untapped sounds and especially paired with contemporary electronics and pedal fx, the combinations for experiencing the harp as a player and listener are interminable.

I’m very interested in experiencing the harp in new ways and placing it into contemporary spaces - essentially creating a new sonic narrative for the harp.

Over the course of your development, what have been your most important instruments and tools - and what are the most promising strategies for working with them?

The harp paired with electronics and fx are the foundation for my writing. Finding a unique sound from a glitch pedal or a section of the harp near the tuning pegs I don’t normally play all inspire me to explore with a curious mind.

For me, approaching these tools with an openness and grace help me not judge it as the “right” or “wrong” way to play— but pure curiosity and exploration.

Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please.

I love to wake up early as it gives me that freedom and space to feel uninhibited and free. I find peace in the daybreak and find that time of day very magical and inspiring. I usually make an espresso, listen to music that inspires me and sit by myself. After trying to feel most renewed, and the sun rises, I will ease into a creative headspace by sitting down at the harp in my home recording studio and start to tune the instrument.

Preparing my instrument is almost like meditation as there are 47 strings to tune and it really urges me to be fully present and active in my listening. Depending on the day, I’ll either record something I’m writing for my records or record something for film / tv that I’m working on. Also, if it’s a day where I have to go into an orchestral sound stage or studio, I’ll pack up my harp and head in for the session.

Most of these days though I’m recording at home.

Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece, live performance or album that's particularly dear to you, please?

I love to have time and space when diving into creation.

Clearing time and obligations helps me feel most light and free to explore compositionally, or prepare a performance. Knowing that openness and expanse is ahead, helps me focus in and unlock space in my brain and body to be actively present with each sensory experience rendering active listening and emotional osmosis. That is particularly essential for my creative process.

Listening can be both a solitary and a communal activity. Likewise, creating music can be private or collaborative. Can you talk about your preferences in this regard and how these constellations influence creative results?

I love to seed an idea, write, or explore sounds by myself with that sense of expanse and open time as I have space to make mistakes, and tune into my own head and emotions a bit more. However, after initial writing, ideas and creation, there is a stage I absolutely love and one which is essential for me to collaborate — especially with my producer, Cyrus Reynolds, who helps me take the harp sonically to a new plane.

Something very important to me was to only use sounds from the harp itself when making my record so everything you hear on my upcoming album is created by using the harp's own sonic capabilities. Both my solitude and collaboration influenced the creative results of that.

How do your work and your creativity relate to the world and what is the role of music in society?

Music helps people translate, process, experience their emotional state. My upcoming album is titled “!”, which to me is used to convey a strong feeling, express emotion, create emphasis, or be a sign of change of tone or expression.

The exclamatory sonic statements I’m passionate about making expresses a lot of my emotion on the harp and it’s an exploration of self and sound.

I hope this album evokes an emotion from the listener or perhaps stirs a change of feeling for them, or an interpretation of their experience in feeling.

Art can be a way of dealing with the big topics in life: Life, loss, death, love, pain, and many more. In which way and on which occasions has music – both your own or that of others - contributed to your understanding of these questions?

A few chance encounters with Brian Eno during my studies at the Royal Academy of Music deeply shaped my sensory and emotional osmosis.

The fact that I was a harpist completely unbeknownst to him, he would exclaim art and creativity to anyone that was in the room. Throughout each meeting, Eno would call to attention something in the world that uses one of the senses in a way I wasn’t conditioned to experiencing. An interpretation of sensory art that would help tap into a broader world of understanding and absorbing life’s topics.

First, a rose; sight. He asked me to step outside to look closely at the deep Burgundy in the sunlight and asked if it was a color I’d ever seen before.

Second, a bird whistle; hearing. He encouraged me to really listen to the various cadences and variations in the pitches and asked if I could discover what variety bird it was.

Third, a perfume; scent. He asked if I could truly notice and try to identify the individual notes within the scent.

These all profoundly impacted me not only in an artistic expression but in processing emotions through sensory moments and art, translated into present awareness and the feeling of pure experience without haste.

Being actively present with each sensory experience rendered active listening and unlocked a key element in my musical exploration within the harp and way that I play.

There seems to be increasing interest in a functional, “rational” and scientific approach to music. How do you see the connection between music and science and what can these two fields reveal about each other?

Scientific discovery embodies that same exploration I love in music and sensory discovery.

Creativity can reach many different corners of our lives. Do you feel as though writing or performing a piece of music is inherently different from something like making a great cup of coffee? What do you express through music that you couldn't or wouldn't in more 'mundane' tasks?

Absolutely— writing and performing allows me to connect with others in a way that a more mundane task wouldn’t. A great cup of coffee is wonderful but I can only share that by myself. With performing and writing, I’m able to connect with others and share an emotional expression or sonic moment that they can then interpret for themselves.

The music could have a different emotional impact for each of us as we are all different humans experiencing the same sonic reverberations however we are doing it together and sharing in that companionship.

Music is vibration in the air, captured by our ear drums. From your perspective as a creator and listener, do you have an explanation how it is able to transmit such diverse and potentially deep messages?

The vibrations evoke a feeling— an emotion that resonates and manifests in ourselves and creates a deep emotional response and interconnectivity to each other.