I started recording the Harmonium Diaries in August 2004, and completed the series in July 2005.
The series consists of 12 CDRs, and album for, and named after, each month. Each album is compiled from daily recordings, each piece retaining its date of composition as its title. The total time is just under 10 hours, consisting of 258 pieces.
The over-riding concept was one of self-exploration. I decided after the first week not to push myself to force things. Each recording session would be a reflection of how I felt at the time. By not forcing any particular mood or technique, the series has a natural growth; in composition, performance and production. The very nature of the project insured a progress, due to the consistent nature of the working method. Each album within the series expands upon ideas that preceded it: both in performance technique and production style.
The process for the series was to record pieces everyday. All the pieces are one take, no overdubs or editing. Each session yielded approx 8 pieces, which were then reviewed, and the best pieces mixed. At the end of each month I had a 2 cds containing 40-50 pieces, from which the best 20 or so pieces were selected for the month's album. I decided that each album would be 45-55 minutes long.
The length of the pieces varies from 50 seconds through to 11 minutes, although the "normal" length is around two minutes. This brevity, allied with the daily nature of the recordings, makes each album a journey through each month, where my (varying) moods are reflected throughout the album.
One concern that was bought to my attention early on was a danger of repeating myself. Initially this was a concern, but I decided not to consciously avoid it. Advantageously, this has led to the series having a greater unity. Several melodies, chord progressions, gestures and colour combinations reappear throughout the series, always in different guises.
Certain albums in the series announced new periods within the project. I divide the series into 4 parts: The primary period (August, September, October, with November being a consolidation of the previous three), a secondary period (December, January, February). This period is marked by a more melodic approach, and a lighter feel. The third period is represented by March, April, May, with June acting as a consolidation of the three. This period is marked by a slower, atmospheric sound. The tenor register is used a great deal more than before. July stands on it's own. This album is easily the most "ambient" in the series, with less melodic lines, an even slower rate of harmonic change, and and a lush sound. It is also the least "catchy".
Another aspect of the work was the photography. Concurrently with the monthly recordings, I would take photos of two silver birch trees in my backyard. This was particularly interesting for me, as I had not done any photography before. Once a photo was selected for the cover artwork, I would then spend the month manipulating it, corresponding to the direction the months recordings were going. I think this has led to a very cohesive marriage between sound and image. Along with the silver birch photo's, I also took a self portrait, which was then manipulated to reflect how I felt during the month. Interestingly, the more the project went on, and the more confident I became in the work, the less blurred the portraits became.
The harmonium used in the series is a Mustel (the
Steinway of Harmoniums). It was manufactured in Paris in 1904. (#
Bass (c to e1)
Prolongement (c to b) (left heel lever)
Cor Anglais 8pds
Percussion et Cor Anglais 8pds
Bass and Treble:
Grand Jeu (central heel lever)
Double-Expression (2 knee levers)
Treble (f1to c4)
Percussion et Flûte 8ps
Clarinette 16Fifre 4pds
Voix Celeste 16pds
For more information about the history of the harmonium, composers, present day performers and discographies, go to the classical harmonium (under construction)
Below is all the artwork for each release (front cover, rear inner, inner left, inner right, back, tray liner and disc image), followed by reviews that have appeared for individual albums in the series.
Click on each title for more information. Each album has it's own page, with tracklisting, mp3s, some background information, and reviews.
"After recording a handful of albums in the mid-'90s, Christopher Orczy completed a music degree in 2002 and the fruits of this experience have now bloomed into the self-released August. Each of the twenty-six 'songs' are entitled their respective recording day of the week and date, which is an analytical concept if not an intriguing one. The 'songs' themselves are like mini scores to irony-free ghost films; as shards of ambient noise from a Parisian harmonium they don't encompass as individual segments, it's only when taken in larger doses that the trapdoor opens. One can envisage any number of seductive scenarios following the (at times barely) audible slithers produced by Orczy. It's an album that points at what's to come on September and October but rather disappointingly doesn't (dramatically speaking) progress through its own month, considering its chronology and the opportunity presented."
Adrian Osman, Real Groove, Issue 133, December 2004/ January 2005
"Following on from last issues August set, Christopher Orczy has his new self released album September out. It's pretty difficult to pick out any variance between the two, I mean it's still ambient/ minimalist harmonium, isn't it? Still set to a diary format and still with Christopher's silver birch on the cover. Which isn't to discredit the work, there are again vast clutches of warmth and desire for expression. And going by some of the other ambient artists whose albums have crossed my path of late, you could do way worse."
Adrian Osman, Real Groove Issue 134, February 2005
"Somewhere in Christchurch, everyday of the week, Christopher Orczy is making improvised harmonium recordings. These instrumental musings are each named by day and date, and an album of selected tracks prepared monthly. Oh, how home recording has revolutionised the music world. On his website, Orczy laments the lack of interest generated by his previous recordings - perhaps not the best example of self-promotion. This sort of offering will never be destined for the mass market, and for many people it will sound like a slightly creepy soundtrack, missing the movie itself."
Narelle Jackson, Rip It Up #303, Feb/ March 2005
"It's an ongoing saga of improvised harmonium from Christchurch artist Christopher Orczy. This month sees the emergence of the self released October and November. Which quite successfully continue the dark dream sequence born in their preceding months recordings. October seems the boldest of the series so far, quite confronting and wilful in the way it grips your attention. The sad and unstoppable kentics of a passing train comes to mind. The gentler November is a consolidation of the three earlier albums, sonically it is (of course) close to identical, but mood is where the element of representation is eked-out. November may have the most brash cover design of the series but it's less like that in its delivery, more like an unconscious preparation for an upcoming dawn."
Adrian Osman, Real Groove Issue135, March 2005
"Dear Mr Orczy of Christchurch, Thank you for sending us your latest monthly installment of your improvised harmonium recordings from The Harmonium Diaries. While I admire your drive in producing an album a month, I must say I am yet to find a suitable time to play them. At home, my guests freaked out. At work, it freaked me out. On the motorway in the dead of night - even the elderly occupants of a passing Honda City scared the bejesus out of me. I am starting to think there is a psychological thriller in production somewhere out there that could use your help with the soundtrack. Best of luck."
Narelle Jackson, Rip It Up #305, June / July 2005
"Assiduous ambient producer Christopher Orczy has the next two pieces in his (self released) Harmonium Diaries project out for you to reflect to. 'December' is the more appropriate for the curious, as it's more musical and melodic - like a series of chilly waves reaching out to you - whereas its successor 'January' (the halfway mark in the series) is a harder working recording, a bloomer that ultimately rewards more on repeat plays through its stark, stained windows, which offer the odd glimpse of the Cantabrians soul."
Adrian Osman, Real Groove, Issue 139, July 2005
"Still catching up with the unrelenting output of Christchurch's Christopher Orczy; the next two self released installments in his Harmonium Diaries series are February and March. Interestingly, February carries on the gentler inflections of not it's immediate predecessor- but December, with the emphasis on a more new age fluidity. By the same token, March reminds me more of January in it's bolder almost hallucinogenic states that it introduces; within the literal sound there seems to be a general swing toward reverb, which is nice"
Adrian Osman, Real Groove, Issue 140, August 2005
"The eighth album in Orczy's Harmonium Diaries series is more of the same for all you harmonium lovers out there (erm, are you out there?). Which begs the question, how many further installments of this series does Orczy have up his presumably long and flowing sleeves? Does the world really need an album per month of daily harmonium musings? And could Orczy's functional song titles (like Friday 25 b) be any more sterile? This is yet another album of tracks crying out to be used as incidental cinematic music. Intriguingly, when Orczy isn't pumping out recordings, he's photographing his silver birch trees... every single day. As you do. I for one am curious to put a face to his name, but sadly only a blurred out photo appears on www.christopherorczy.co.nz, where you can sample many of his tracks."
Narelle Jackson, Rip It Up #306, August / September 2005
"Toil (or at least seeing things through) is something that Christopher Orczy knows something about, here we throw the spotlight on his ninth and tenth CDRs in the Harmonium Diaries series. April initially seemed a bit redundant, it was very similar to March in it;s docile ambient etchings, it wasn't until the wonderfully cinematic Anzac Day that I fully appreciated the work. Anzac Day is the only conceptual passage and throws a far more dramatic slant over preceedings, at eleven minutes it also begs the question, would it not hurt to have longer pieces more often? The May recording rests on a brighter notion. Gone is the fragility, the draw the curtains of the previous two months and in comes the sweep of the outdoors and mother nature. Strange considering the doubtless freeze in the Christchurch weather at the time."
Adrian Osman, Real Groove, Issue 142, October 2005
"Gaining a position as something as a regular in this column is Christopher Orczy. The Christchurch man has had such a reliable and regulated release schedule that it's at times, been difficult to fully appreciate the control he has over his craft. June and July complete the 12-album diary of 2004-205 with no great alarm, but as always gentle calibre. June is a balanced affair, with plenty of lavish soundscapes giving an aquatic feel. There's the odd darker streak - but the most disturbing is the noise within 'Friday 24', which may be a coughing sound thrown through some effects, but sounds like an iron gate being closed in agitation. July is, of course, the finale in the Harmonium Diaries series and as such acts justifiably as something of a conclusive statement. It's oddly tense and demanding rather than pure subtlety, but at the end of the day a dramatic ambience that by and large follows on from its predecessors. "
Adrian Osman, Real Groove, Issue 144, New Year's Edition 2006
"It was December 2004 when the first disc of Christopher Orczy's solo harmonium found it's way to my letterbox, and further installments followed monthly until last November when the Cantabrian keyboardist completed his project: to record, diary style, a year's worh of improvisations. Though the concept is esoteric and Orczy's palette austere, the results are subtly varied, evoking emotional shifts as much as seasonal ones. Mostly the entries are economical, though certain dates - Anzac Day, for instance - inspire pieces that are longer and more sombre. For those not ready or willing to undertake the whole 12-disc marathon, a single-disc selection is offered in Some Days while a further disc, Altered Days, features reconstructions by a range of fellow experimentalists"
Nick Bollinger, New Zealand Listener Vol. 202 No. 3429, January 28-February 3 2006
"Following on from his mammoth Harmonium Diaries series Christopher Orczy self-releases two more albums. The first is Some Days a selection of cuts from each of the months of the Diaries albums, which I'm not going to get into. The second is the rather more interesting Altered Days that sees Orczy's work given the remix/ reconstruction treatment. This probably didn't come about in the 'glamorous artists getting heavily drunk throwing challenging ideas across the table at each other and then having to back up said boasts the next day' fashion, but rather from behind computer screens. Whatever, the end result has breathed new life into the Cantabrian's sketches; it's mostly spatial and gentle electronic flourishes leading them to a more varied and (let's face it) commercial plateau. 'What is the point of all this', the May reconstruction by Mosca could almost be a single had it not been nearly eight minutes and Milieu's February reconstruction ('Endless Green MMX') has great use of looped nature sounds beneath the harmonium and processed beats. Altered Days is a welcome epilogue "
Adrian Osman, Real Groove, Issue 146, March 2006