Electroacoustic duo with Richard Barrett

Milana Zarić, acoustic/electric harps, electronics
Richard Barrett, electronics


Milana and Richard started collaborating in 2011 in the Sonology Ensemble at Institute of Sonology, Royal Conservatoire in The Hague. Since 2013, they have been regularly performing as a duet, and also in collaboration with many musicians in Serbia, around Europe, the US and Australia.

Richard and Milana perform composed, as well as freely improvised music, most often in the same context. In their work, they explore the sound space between acoustic and electronic instruments. Through electronic manipulations, they find common denominators, follow each other, imitate, face, and confront each other – creating new sound worlds through their mutual meta-instrument.

Richard wrote tendril for harp and electronics in 2013, and since then, it has been performed at Ring Ring festival in Belgrade, Showroom of contemporary sound festival in Zagreb, City University London, Guildhall School of Music, London, Richard Barrett@Spectrum in New York City, Melbourne, Singapore, Novi Sad, Birmingham Conservatoire, Swansea NAWR series, University of Minnesota and Cal Arts in LA.

šuma for harp and electronics, the last part of close-up for 6 players in 6 parts, has been performed at NOVA Festival and International Review of Composers Festival in Serbia in 2017. In November 2017 it was performed in Minneapolis and LA, and in January 2018, in Birmingham and London. In 2022, the duo performed both pieces at the World Harp Congress in Cardiff.

Nocturnes is a collaborative piece for electric harp and electronics, which was premiered in Serbia in 2019, but which was also a part of their UK tour in October 2019 (Manchester, Leeds, York, North Wales)

Milana and Richard premiered a virtual concert on You Tube on 7 June 2020. Restless Horizon consisted of four collaborative pieces, two of which were performed for the first time. Restless Horizon takes its name after a painting hung behind the performers in the video, by the Serbian modernist painter Stojan Ćelić (1925-1992). Sphinx is a fixed media binaural electronic piece, accompanied by an original video.

In 2021, they formed a Bandcamp label Strange Strings, where their fist album Mirage was released. https://strangestrings.bandcamp.com

From the liner notes to the album:

This release documents the current stage in the evolution of our duo music, which gained momentum during the spring of 2020 when all of our other collaborative musical activities were suddenly curtailed. The first music we played regularly as a duo was my composition tendril for harp and electronics, written in 2013, which, in its duo form, combines a precisely notated score and a fixed media electronic part with freely interpolated improvisation for both participants. tendril subsequently became the first of the six parts that make up my electroacoustic sextet close-up, which is analysed in detail in my book Music of Possibility, together with an interview between Milana and myself which centres on the particular challenges of alternating spontaneously between intricate notation and improvisation. The final part of close-up is entitled šuma (“forest”), in which all six performers find their own pathways through such an alternation. It can also be played by different combinations of fewer than the entire ensemble, as here, where the harp part (separately performable as cyme, whose title denotes a characteristic kind of branching in the development of certain flowers) is combined with the electronic part (epiphyte– a plant that grows upon another plant without being parasitic on it, such as the numerous ferns, bromeliads and orchids which grow on tree trunks in tropical rainforests), and the tutti passages from the sextet are omitted. In this duo version, the largely percussive and textural electronic sounds entwine themselves around the harp sounds, which mostly take the form of a developing line like a stem that twists and bifurcates as it grows.

As our duo work has continued, it has focused increasingly on collaborative compositions developed through improvisation, beginning with nocturnes which was first performed in Novi Sad on 10 April 2019. nocturnes consists of three parts which flow into one another seamlessly: the first is organised around a time-dilated moment from Debussy’s Nuages and the second around a recording of a lakeside chorus of frogs and insects, while the third emerges from a highly processed recording of our son singing to himself at the age of two, and evolves towards an atmosphere of anxiety and nightmare. This recorded performance may be compared to the rather different one that features in our video concert made a few months earlier, to show how performances of these pieces change over the course of time. In nocturnes the acoustic harp is replaced by an electric instrument, whose two outputs (for the high and low strings) are sent through different and changing processing in a computer, their parameters manipulated by Milana in real time using a MIDI controller which becomes part of the instrument, alongside various acoustic transformations produced by preparing the strings and/or actuating them with objects other than the player’s hands.

A similar setup is used in restless horizon, named after a painting by the Serbian artist Stojan Ćelić (1925-1992). (central painting in the photo below). But in this piece the electric harp tends away from the recognisably plucked sounds that still permeate nocturnes, and towards a much more “electronic” sound-world, not just in timbre but also in the kinds of dense sound-structures it generates, sounding now less like an instrument and more like an angular but organic kind of machine, switching abruptly between textures, sometimes in parallel with the electronic part and sometimes independently of it. The electronic part itself is mostly derived from the sounds of extended electric harp techniques, so that, as in mirage, the two instruments are able to merge with one another to the point of industinguishability, as opposed to the situations in nocturnes and šuma where they remain timbrally distinct and interweave on other musical levels (or sometimes not).

sphinx returns to the acoustic harp, but used now as a sound source for a fixed media electronic piece, conceived and composed for binaural listening using headphones. The materials on which the music is based are harp recordings, some freely improvised and others concentrating on specific techniques, which were then categorised, transformed in diverse ways and assembled into an ensemble of multitimbral harps that passes through several distinct phases, each focusing on a central idea (frictional sounds, melodies, tremoli, resonant chords, harmonics) around which various divergent processes and events take shape. When planning our duo concert in Šabac, we decided to develop sphinx into a piece for live performance, which became mirage. The components of that electronic piece were once more disassembled to provide sound material for my computer instrument, and the harp techniques used to record them were reassembled into a live strand, expanded by the addition of some small percussion instruments. mirage isn’t an attempt to recreate sphinx, but an independent composition meeting it at various tangential points, whose character depends crucially on spontaneous real-time interactions, while at the same time embodying a further phase in the same composition process.

Richard Barrett 25 September 2020

Mirage is also a video performance, performed online, in collaboration with the video animation artist Incredible Bob.

Upcoming performances in 2023:

Bangor Music Festival, Wales, February 2023. Milana will premiere Richard’s new piece for harp and voice pektis.

Residency at Twin Cities, US, April 2023. Richard and Milana will perform duo pieces, and collaborate with 113 Collective, Fonema Consort and Maja Radovanlija

Celeste, Vienna, November 2023. Improvised music concert with Elisabeth Harnik.

tendril, live performance from Spectrum, New York City, June 2015
recorded by Lawrence de Martin

© 2011 Milana Zaric All rights reserved. Reproduction prohibited. Credits »»