Rhodri Davies (musician)

Rhodri Davies (born Aberystwyth, 1971) is a harp player working within the field of free improvisation. He was one of the most prominent members of the London reductionist school of improvised music that was active in the late 1990s and early 2000s[1] and which has been described as being "extremely influential over the last decade".[2]

Davies is also active in the field of contemporary composition where he has commissioned new works for the harp from leading avant-garde composers.[2] He has also worked as an orchestral player and as a session musician for Charlotte Church and Cinematic Orchestra amongst others.[3] He has appeared on over 60 commercially available recordings.

He has created a number of installations and performances which involve destroying or disassembling the harp.[3] In 2010 he was longlisted for the Northern Arts Prize[4] and in 2012 he was awarded a grant by the Foundation for Contemporary Arts.[5]

He is a board member of the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival and a trustee of the AV Festival.[6]


Davies started playing the harp at the age of seven and went on to study with Hugh Webb and Sioned Williams. Writing in Coda magazine David Lewis described him as "the most radical" of the harp players working within the field of improvised music as "he approached [the harp] as a sculptural sound object rather than as an established musical tool with a pre-designated musical role." Davies uses preparations such as wine corks along with a variety of beaters and resonators to tease out different timbres from the instrument. He sometimes employs an ebow to induce a harmonic drone.[7]

According to Davies, the reductionist school of improvisation with which he was associated in the late 1990s and early 2000s emerged as a result of "being disinterested in the busy, non-stop, energetic gesture playing. We associated that more with a link to free jazz, remnants of which were in Improv."[1] Critic Ben Watson described Davies' playing as "[Derek] Bailey's guitar writ large, the soundworld of Pierre Boulez shot through with the funk and low humour repartee of the improvisor [sic]".[8]

His collaborators have included David Toop, Max Eastley, Derek Bailey and Evan Parker and he has long-term musical relationships with John Butcher and the groups The Sealed Knot (with Burkhard Beins and Mark Wastell), SLW (with Burkhard Beins, Lucio Capece and Toshimaru Nakamura), Cranc (with Angharad Davies and Nikos Veliotis) and Common Objects (various musicians).

In 2011 he was part of a group of musicians selected to represent the British improvised music scene in a festival entitled "Just Not Cricket" in Berlin which was filmed as the basis for a forthcoming documentary.[9]

Other improvising harpists include Alice Coltrane, Zeena Parkins, Anne Le Baron, Clare Cooper, Helene Breschand and Carol Emanuel.

New Music

Davies is also active in the field of contemporary composition and new pieces for harp have been composed for him by leading avant-garde composers including Eliane Radigue,[10][11] Phill Niblock,[12] Christian Wolff and Ben Patterson.[13] He has performed and recorded the music of Cornelius Cardew and Otomo Yoshihide and is a member of the new music ensemble Apartment House.[14]

He was part of an ensemble selected to interpret new aural scores by Luc Ferrari, David Grubbs and others at Tate Modern in 2005.[15] In 2009 He performed as part of British composer Richard Barrett's ensemble fORCH at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in a concert recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 3[16]

Installations and performance art

Davies has had an interest in destruction and creation in relation to the harp which he has explored in several recent performance and installation works.[3] In 2008 he collaborated with the founder of Auto-Destructive Art, Gustav Metzger, on a series of events under the title of "Self-Cancellation"[17] which took place at the Instal Festival in Glasgow[18] and Beaconsfield in London.[19] His performance "Cut and Burn" involved cutting and burning the strings of a concert pedal harp and then restringing the harp. His installation "Room Harp" was exhibited at the Hatton Gallery in Newcastle's Great Northern Museum in 2010.[20]

Selected Discography

Davies appears on over 60 published recordings. Besides those listed, Davies also appears on recordings by Charlotte Church, Cinematic Orchestra, Apartment House, Zeitkratzer, Otomo Yoshihide, Furt, fORCH, Chris Burn's Ensemble and Simon Fell's SFE. A full discography can be found at European Free Improvisation Pages.[21]


Duo with John Butcher

The Sealed Knot (with Burkhard Beins and Mark Wastell)

SLW (with Burkhard Beins, Lucio Capece and Toshimaru Nakamura)

Cranc (with Angharad Davies and Nikos Veliotis)

IST (with Simon H Fell and Mark Wastell)

Various Improvising groups

See also


  1. 1 2 Bell, Clive, ”The Other Side of Silence”, The Wire, (issue 260, October 2005) pp.32–39
  2. 1 2 Saunders, James, The Ashgate Research Companion to Experimental Music, (Ashgate, 2009), p.228
  3. 1 2 3 Hamilton, Andy, "Invisible Jukebox: Rhodri Davies", The Wire (issue 318, August 2010) pp.28–31
  4. Longlist for the 2010 Northern Arts Prize
  5. “Foundation for Contemporary Arts Announces Grants to Artists for 2012”, FCA, January 2012
  6. Artist biography at Foundation for Contemporary Arts website
  7. Lewis, David, "Changing Harp: The Radical Art of Rhodri Davies”, Coda (May/June 2004), pp.6–7
  8. Watson, Ben, "Company, New York Tonic" in The Wire, (issue 208, June 2001), p.87
  9. Graham, Steven, “Just Not Cricket Festival of Improvised Music Confirmed For Berlin”, Jazzwise (August 2011)
  10. Cain, Nick, "Triptych: The Music of Eliane Radigue" concert review The Wire (issue 330, August 2011)
  11. Schutze, Paul "Surround Sound" interview with Eliane Radigue in Frieze (issue 142, October 2011)
  12. Programme note AV Festival 2012
  13. Programme note Huddersfield Contemporary Music 2010
  14. Group membership list at Apartment House artist website
  15. "The Sound of Heaven and Earth" Tate Modern event page
  16. BBC Radio 3 "Hear and Now" (25 January 2010) programme details
  17. ”Vanishing Point – Gustav Metzger & Self-Cancellation: Round Table Discussion, Chair Brian Morton” published in Art & Research (Volume 3. No. 1. Winter 2009/10)
  18. Glasgow Instal 2008 Festival Programme
  19. Beaconsfield gallery Self-Cancellation event page
  20. BBC Radio 3, "Hear and Now" (15 May 2010 programme note
  21. Rhodri Davies, European Free Improvisation Pages

Further reading

External links

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