Anne Vanschothorst is a composer, minimal harp pioneer, and multimedia artist exploring creativity in applied music, film, and spoken word - using overdub and making sound sculptures with 47 strings. Don't miss our conversation with Anne Vanschothorst, covering topics such as musical influences, composition, technical aspects of harp playing, and life.

What inspired you to pursue a career in music?

My career in music production started with a simple recorded video clip, I did not have any hq recording gear yet, with original music (A Bird Came Flying) that I improvised live during a lecture recital; I uploaded the performance on YouTube in 2006. This particular video led to the invitation by the visual artists of 'Studio Drift' to license the audio for their art installation. It occurred to me that it might be a good idea to invest in a simple home studio to make better sounding audio recordings. This question for my audio recording felt like an eureka moment for me. I was wondering and wandering about how to be happy with my concert repertoire. I was already rethinking the harp as an instrument and redefining the stage. It became clear that I felt more like a sculptor in an atelier, rather than a performing artist in the spotlights. So now I define myself as a landscape music composer and producer of applied music, with the harp as basis material. I explore creativity in ARTfusion, film and spoken word. Music is my true love and beyond (a) belief: my harp is my heart, my companion / I liberate her sound and she gives voice, makes sense and directs my life. Creating something new in my own beautiful world is the ultimate freedom and greatest joy to express myself. It just feels natural to follow my dream and pursue a career in music. My aim and great inspiration, is to shape reality with my strings that change perception or lead to transformation in well-being. We all need a harp and soul / a home, to thrive. We all need music and love to enjoy life!

Can you share some of your earliest musical influences and how they have shaped your unique style as a composer? Are there any specific composers or musicians who have had a significant impact on your work, and in what ways?

At age 9 I had my first harp lessons. Besides learning from sheet music, celtic and easy classical tunes, I loved fooling around with my strings. Just being playful and enjoying the sounds that I created, just between me and the universe, were the planted seeds for pursuing my passion years later. These early sounds could be characterized as intuitive, naive and dreamy. The improvisations developed into meditative, minimalist and lyrical music that is influenced by composers like Erik Satie, Philip Glass, Arvo Pärt and artists like Keith Jarrett, Pat Metheny and Miles Davis. They taught me to create my own musical landscapes, cinematic imagery. I learned to express the mystical and spiritual of being human, and inspired me to ask life questions in music, feeling at home in my harp and soul, and being original, while going my own way. In my latest project 'That I Did always love, an ode to Emily Dickinson for harp in a soundscape' I am thankful to the artists who enriched the album with their unique voice. Namely: Emily Dickinson, Peter Verstegen, Annie Einan, Pjotr van Schothorst, Sylvia Weve, Maarten Vos, Bert Barten, Dennis Keil, Zino Mikorey and the PARMA Recordings creative team.

Can you share some insights into the technical aspects of harp playing? How do you utilize the instrument's capabilities to achieve your desired sound?

I like to see my music as sound-sculptures (three-dimensional), a scenery where one can walk around the notes as it were, with room to embrace the natural sound, movement, light, morphology, texture and poetry of the actual landscape or architecture - inevitably reality is altered by the subtle harp whispers. Stillness is fundamental to make music tangible. The technical aspect of the instrument is of great influence to create this specific tactile feeling, or a desired cinematic imagery. A harp is known for finger plucking, arpeggios, glissandi, but there are also a lot of experimental extended techniques, from percussive sounds to prepared harp. My current harp still surprises me when it comes to timbre; I chose her as my music companion because she doesn't have a defined sound. She allows me to shape the tones as it were (I realize that I am talking about subtleties). The sound, dynamics, timbre I create with my fingertips and where I decide to place my fingers. I can make flageolets – overtones created by shortening the string by the palm of my hand, the string will sound a quint or octave higher depending of the placement of the hand. A more guitar-like sound can be reached by playing “pret de la table”. Or I can prepare my harp with paper-clips hanging in the strings that give a particular sound. These different techniques and many more can be used when I would like to have “effects” in my composition. Another important aspect to write a tone poem is that I have redefined the strings to achieve my desired sound. When the harp strings are seen as clay and the sound as a statuary, then the way i pull and push the string(s) and choose the clusters, will obviously be of influence to the shape of the material. How and when i mold my 47strings define the music. In other words: silence and the intention between one and the other note give the listener time and space to experience the music as a real sculpture. / Wondering and wandering between the notes is like the shadow that brings depth or contrast to the sounds already exposed. // The creation of a sound-sculpture is an organic and intuitive process ; coloring, grading, movement and texture happen simultaneously, light and shadow are inherent. \\  The architecture and sound-quality of a recording are crucial to make my compositions intimate and sensual, as it were a skin of sound that is emotionally and physically felt as the only truth.

Can you share any upcoming projects or collaborations that you are excited about, and what can your fans expect in the near future?

At the moment I feel very excited about the collaboration with Diek Grobler, who is an amazing visual artist. He is working as we speak on animated poetry for the moving Emily Dickinson poem 'I haven't told my garden yet'. It is such a wondrous synergy between animation, poetry, spoken word and music. This short film will be presented in due time at international film festivals.

How do you think the role of the harp in contemporary music has evolved, and where do you see it heading in the future?

Apart from being one of the oldest string instruments - the harp is believed to have originated in Asia, Africa, and Europe around 3000 BCE - the romantic sounding glissando, the harp (electric, acoustic, traditional, modern) is nowadays also incorporated in various genres from classical to jazz to dance to experimental sonic art, and beyond... The harp continues to be a versatile instrument with great story telling qualities, as the troubadours realized ages ago, talking about world topics and local rumors. I feel that the instrument will become a stronger extension of the harp player in order to create a clear language, an authentic story, that really resonates within the musician, therefore with the listener, on a soul level. The need to express oneself in general has become more urgent, because an untold inner story turns out to be an agony. It implicates that the harpist will have an important role, asking life questions, using the spiritual healing sound of the instrument that leads to a communal experience of music and love. In other words: harpists will be making global impact through an original sound mark ~ a butterfly effect ~ in a contemporary soundscape / music that turns out to be an universal expression of the human longing for the beauty of peace.

Finally, from your perspective, what is the meaning of life?

I really love and embrace the words of my muse Emily Dickinson: "Find ecstasy in life; the mere sense of living is joy enough."