Last month, harpist and electronic artist Lara Somogyi released her debut record !, a sonic exploration of the various ways the harp can be used to create densely textured, genre defying, and deeply immersive soundscapes. Here, she talks pushing musical boundaries, chance encounters with Brian Eno and working with everyone from Hans Zimmer to Anderson .Paak…
We may only be chatting over Zoom, but there is an almost palpable sense of joy and enthusiasm radiating through the screen when Lara Somogyi greets Headliner from her L.A. studio. The prodigiously talented harpist has just released her debut album ! (pronounced exclamation), a spellbinding collection of hypnotic, beautifully textured soundscapes that place the harp front and centre while simultaneously pushing and pulling its sonic extremities to their limits by way of an armful of guitar pedals and synthesizers. The result is not so much a love letter to her instrument, but a tome written in its honour. Almost a decade in the making, it represents everything her career has been about to this point.
“I’m so happy to have this record out in the world; it’s been a real journey of a lot of exploration and love,” a beaming Somogyi says as we join her. “It’s been about 10 years in terms of exploring some of the sonic tools that I’ve been using and how I’ve been developing my sound. I come from a really traditional classical background, which lead me to the Royal Academy of Music in London, where I was introduced to many different avenues that a harp could be placed in. I was captivated with where you can take this instrument. The harp is such a huge, luscious work of art and there are so many ways you can use it and create different sounds. So that exploration is where I started developing my own sound and taking it into a different realm.”
Words like ‘exploration’ and ‘development’ are spoken a lot over the course of our conversation, the sense of intrigue and experimentation that fuelled not just ! but everything she has worked on to date evidently undimmed after drawing a line under her first full length record. As she explains, the very notion of making an album has been a fluid one, with no delineated beginning and end points.
“The record came from a love and obsession with creating things on the instrument that gave me a sense of joy and freedom,” she says. “I was getting asked to play in different ways for different composers and projects, and apart from that I’d be exploring different sounds myself and figuring out what brings me the most joy in how I approach the instrument. So, after just sitting with myself and spending a lot of time in the studio, I would have moments where I felt ‘this is a piece’ and I’d start developing it from there. And then I would reach a point where I felt I had a body of work that really expressed what I enjoy most in the instrument.”
The freedom she describes is certainly one of the album’s defining characteristics, its shapeshifting, genre-defying qualities standing as testament to Somogyi’s ability to bring such an open approach to her craft.
“I find great comfort in sonic textures and making the harp feel atmospheric,” she elaborates. “It already has such a warm, and lush sound, but combining it with things like electronics and pedal effects really shaped how I was playing it. I like exploring the sound of the harp through things like endless reverb pedals and glitch effects - it was really structured by an array of guitar effects pedals that I like to combine in different configurations. It’s a surprise every time and it always piques my sonic interest to play with sounds like that.”