March 18, 2021
In Switzerland, the singer and harpist Céline Hänni is reaching new audiences with the lever harp. Her work includes club sessions, museums, multidisciplinary performance art, alternative spaces, solo/group impro, and projects with a social mission: you will find it fascinating, unexpected and constantly evolving. Under the artist name Orlando, her recent album Anywhere Road is a musical exploration of texts by Thoreau, Fernando Pessoa, Emily Dickinson, and Emily Brontë; another upcoming project will be to create new soundscapes from the 20,000 hours of recorded archives at the Musée d’ethnographie in Geneva.
The pedal harp, especially electroacoustic, is a (slightly) more familiar creative hub in alternative and contemporary music. Céline Hänni is classically-trained, but an “it’s complicated” relationship status is not confined to Facebook. “I always felt ambivalent about the pedal harp, because I never enjoyed its classical repertoire”, she explains. “I concentrated on singing at the start of my career. But I’ve always liked both traditional and contemporary music, and as a singer, I used both to explore the voice. I was also inspired by artists like Hélène Breschand and Zeena Parkins, who are pushing the boundaries of the harp. The harp has huge potential in new music, an enormous sonic universe. After several years focused on experimental work, I also needed to return to the melodic, the acoustic, and a form of simplicity in both sound and form.”
Céline’s return to the harp began with an electric lever harp. She explored a lot of processing, accompanying her vocal experiments. “This also opened the doors to many other disciplines”, Céline continues, “because of the enormous scope of the amplified harp. I’ve always been an explorer; I love to appropriate extra-musical sources, cross over into other disciplines and bring them into my own performances. Art brut (Outsider Art) particularly is a limitless source of discovery and surprise. In my project Mille choses de terre, a performance based on textes bruts, the harp sounds like an e-guitar.”
Orlando, meanwhile, represents a return to a more acoustic harp sound. It’s still amplified, but this time the harp is acoustic, with DPA pickups attached directly to it. For Céline, it is an exploration of what she describes as the “warm, round sound” of her Mélusine lever harp. “When I’m working at home, at the moment I am always working unplugged. I am also working with sound engineers on the Mélusine. We’re exploring the space between its own sound and how it can be treated.”
New music means new audiences. From (Covid permitting) the Suoni Mobili festival 2021, to installations in libraries and a new project with tabla, Céline is constantly expanding the lever harp’s voice.
“I’m also very interested in projects with a social dimension. What role does a musician play in society today? The crisis we are going through makes this question particularly relevant. We are living in a pivotal period, which will undoubtedly lead to major changes in artistic and cultural practices. For the past few years, transmission has occupied a fundamental place: through vocal improvisation workshops, with participants of all ages and backgrounds, without any prior knowledge. Just the pleasure of exploring together, meeting through music, music through meeting. Musicians play a fundamental role in contemporary society: that of opening doors, spaces for exchange and freedom”.