For the record
She's studied under musicians like Pauline Oliveros, Fred Frith and Avlin Curran, played with and performed on records for Bjork, John Zorn, Trevor Dunn, Anthony Braxton, Elysian Fields and countless others, but after 11 years as a professional musician, New York-based harpist Shelley Burgon has yet to release a solo recording. However, things changed in September when In Context Music invited Burgon to be one of three artists to record a piece for their launch series. Since having the 11 minute piece titled 'Loveher' pressed into limited edition lathe-cut translucent vinyl, Burgon is keener than ever to release a full length album. While Burgon has been labeled as a sound artist since her debut sound installation at New York's Splatterpool Artspace, the Mills College graduate who also performs under the name Rowan, identifies more as a musician in a traditional sense. Burgon's musical work centres around the harp both as an acoustic instrument in a chamber context and also as the basis of her electronic music.
When did you start writing/producing music - and what or who were your early passions and influences?
I started with piano when I was about 5 and when I was in the 3rd grade I wanted to start a band like the Go-Go's. Over the years the influences changed but the desire to be in a band and make music never left.
What do you personally consider to be the incisive moments in your artistic work and/or career?
When I hit a wall and move past it. The In Context release was a turning point for me as my music has really only been experienced in a live setting. I've gotten a great response to this first recording. I'm really excited about it and I'm enjoying this aspect of music making.
What are currently your main artistic challenges?
Time, funding and physical space. It's also a challenge to find a quiet space in NYC.
What do you usually start with when working on a new piece?
It depends, if I'm composing chamber music then I usually lie around thinking about a general feeling or experience I'd like to recreate with sound then in the final hour I write it all down. If it's for my solo, project Rowan then I usually just play with sounds and improvise till something resonates and feels/sounds good.
How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
Do you feel it important that an audience is able to deduct the processes and ideas behind a work purely on the basis of the music? If so, how do you make them transparent?
No and I don't.
The relationship between music and other forms of art – painting, video art and cinema most importantly - has become increasingly important. How do you see this relationship yourself and in how far, do you feel, does music relate to other senses than hearing alone?
I feel that in general, modern society has evolved the human brain into a state that requires more and more stimulation. With that said and while I certainly don't condone over stimulation, I often appreciate a visual element with certain types of music.
There seem to be two fundamental tendencies in music today: On the one hand, a move towards complete virtualisation, where tracks and albums are merely released as digital files. And, on the other, an even closer union between music, artwork, packaging and physical presentation. Where do you stand between these poles?
Since I somehow managed to skip the CD generation altogether by not releasing a solo album in that format, I am happy to see the revival of vinyl releases accompanied by a digital download and am now looking forward to releasing my music in that format.
Keith Rowe once asserted that it is often certain people that “give one permission to do things”. How was that for you – in which way did the work of particular artists before you “allow” you to take decisions which were vital for your creative development?
It wasn't the work of one artist that "allowed" me to make the music I now make. It was the state of mind of Mills College where I went to graduate school. The faculty supported every student's desire to learn and explore the music and ideas they personally were drawn to, whether or not the faculty enjoyed it aesthetically. This helped to solidify my own personal ideology that anyone can make music and that there is a place for all types of music whether popular or obscure.