Austrian classically-trained pianist-composer Elisabeth Harnik has created a multi-faceted body of work by crossing genre boundaries through various collaborations in the field of improvised music (reeds players Ken Vandermark, Dave Rempis and Frank Gratkowski and drummers Michael Zerang and Paal Nilssen-Love) composition and sound art. «Superstructure · Holding Up A Bridge» presents two contemporary compositions of Harnik. «Superstructure» (for clarinet, percussion, piano, quarter-tone accordion, violoncello, double bass and electronics) was written in 2006 and was recorded and produced live in concert in Vienna a year later by the Austrian Broadcasting Corporation ORF-Ö1 and performed by All Ears Area ensemble with Harnik playing the piano. «Holding up a Bridge» (for ensemble) was commissioned and performed by the up-and-coming Viennese ensemble Studio Dan in 2018.
Welsh composer Richard Barrett notes in his liner notes that both compositions are connected in different ways with the image of a bridge, most obviously «Holding up a Bridge» whose title derives from these words of Ben Okri: «What holds up the bridge?» he asked the guide. «Only the person crossing it», came the reply. Barret claims that Harnik’s compositions involve strictly composed parts and spontaneous playing, leading to «precise points of departure and arrival, between which a multiplicity of paths might be taken, sometimes in a straight line, other times in a precarious kind of tightrope walk, and still others following a complex, capricious and unpredictable course». This compositional approach encourages the musicians to concentrate on the inner movements of their sounds and textures, both as individuals and as members of an ensemble.
«Superstructure» is the first composition in which Harnik incorporates improvisation and abstract sound art. The All Eaes Area ensemble is employed as a highly disciplined collective that seeks a well-balanced, resonant stillness. But the score offers generous degrees of freedom that enable moments of rapture and tension, as well as brief individual improvisations – mainly by Harnik, electronics player Josef Novotny and percussionist Christian Wolfarth – that reconfigure the course of this structured composition.
«Holding up a Bridge» develops further the compositional ideas of «Superstructure» and expands its focus for balance and imbalance between static and disruptive sonic events. Some of these events are quite chaotic, but now these events are orchestrated and less frequent, still, liberating the musicians of Studio Dan to find their own sonic worlds, or lay their own bridges. This composition emphasizes an elusive sonic spectrum, intensified by extended breathing and bowing techniques of the musicians, often suggesting an eerie, electronic aura but also surprising lyrical, contemplative passages.
Superstructure: Elisabeth Harnik (p), Petra Stump (cl), Krassimir Šterev (acc), Michael Moser (violoncello), Christian Wolfarth (perc), Josef Novotny (elec), Klaus Janek (b). Holding up a Bridge: Studio Dan – Thomas Frey (fl), Viola Falb (as), Dominik Fuss (tp), Daniel Riegler (tb), Michael Tiefenbacher (p), Hubert Bründlmayer (dr), Sophia Goidinger-Koch (vio), Maiken Beer (c), Philipp Kienberger (b)