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Government of New Brunswick

Gregory Harrison

Gregory Harrison (Grej) is an ECMA award winning and Dora-nominated composer and performer based in Toronto and Fredericton. He has been described as a "percussion and electronics wizard" (Bob Boilen, NPR Music) and thrives on exploring the space between organic and electronic mediums.

His extensive resume spans artists and groups including Jeremy Dutcher, Cirque du Soleil, Video Games Live, Toronto Dance Theatre, Nicole Lizée, R. Murray Schafer, and Fred Penner. He has performed extensively internationally at notable venues such as Massey Hall, NPR Tiny Desk Concerts, the JUNO’s, and The Kennedy Center. In recent years, Harrison's commissions have been coveted by Kaeja d'Dance, ProArte Danza, Toronto Dance Theatre, Ess Hödlmoser (Strange Wonderful Creature), Architek Percussion, Fifth Wind Quintet, CCDT, Dr. Morris Palter (University of Arizona), Popular Demand Pictures Inc., NB Tourism, and Division 85 Films. His compositions have been featured on various programs including CBC’s The National, Kim’s Convenience, CBC’s Enslaved, France’s Got Talent, NB Tourism and more.

Who or what inspires you and why?

Everyday sounds in out in the world. I try to keep my ears open, otherwise everyday sounds just become static background noise. If something catches my ear, I’ll usually record it and mess with it later in the studio.

What drew you to music?

I decided to go to music school because I curious about why music had such a profound impact on me growing up. I wanted to understand why that was, or at least get closer to understanding my relationship with it. I enrolled in a Classical Percussion Performance program, which exposed me to a whole world of new and exciting genres that I’ve never heard before. My teacher, Prof. Mark Adam, was a huge inspiration for me, and still is today. He is a great example of someone who merges the worlds of classical/ electronic genres; something that I incorporate in most of my compositions.

What do you enjoy most about making music?

I tend to thrive when creating new, interesting sounds. Whether it’s making my own instrument patches from samples/ field recordings or manipulating acoustic instruments by adding “preparations” to them or contorting them via effects and granular synthesis. I love exploring new ways to create, rather than relying on the same process each time. That’s why working with choreographers and film directors is so rewarding. You must understand their language and vision to somehow interpret that with sound.

What do you enjoy most about being an artist living in New Brunswick?

I split my time between Toronto and Fredericton. Home base is in Toronto now, but I do a lot of collaborative projects back home. The amount of talent in the east coast is amazing and there are always new and exciting projects popping up all the time! One of my favourite gigs here is directing the FUZE Orchestra for Shivering Songs, which incorporates a small classical ensemble that fuses with a featured local band each year. I love that I get to experiment with various bands including: The Olympic Symphonium, Motherhood, Marian, Sleepy Driver, etc.

Describe what you are most proud of as an artist.

I’ve been fortunate to play alongside so many amazing artists/ groups including: Jeremy Dutcher, Cirque du Soleil, Fred Penner, Tapestry Opera, etc. Some highlights include performing at NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts, The Polaris Prize Gala, The JUNOS, and Massey Hall. In recent years I have merged into more of a composer which led to an amazing collaboration with my dear friend and amazing soprano, Maureen Batt. Our album, Lighthouse, was inspired by a person close to us who passed away a few years ago. We are super proud of the work and even more stoked that it won and ECMA for Classical Recording of the Year (2022) and Classical Composer of the Year (2023).

What is your artistic approach and/or philosophy to creating art?

As a performer, my approach is to first serve the artist and their music. I’m lucky to have a toolbox of skills which can allow me to fit into the vibe the right way. Sometimes that means my setup and approach are somewhat unorthodox (processing my drums lives via effects, adding melodic instrumentation, playing synths, samples, etc). Versatility is key these days.

As a composer, my goal is to have my music emotionally resonate with my audience. Most of my compositions tend to have a “beauty in chaos” vibe, which draws from personal experiences, struggles with mental illness, love, loss, hope, and satire. Life is complex and not black and white. My approach is to try to evoke those types of complex experiences.

Who is your favourite artist(s) and why?

Lately I’ve been digging a lot of Tim Hecker, Ryuichi Sakamoto (RIP), Debussy, and Cadence Weapon.

What advice would you give to young, emerging artists?

Finding your voice takes time. For me, it was a very long and slow process - and I’m still journeying through it. I was never “naturally talented”, but my determination/ excitement/ willingness to learn got me there and kept me moving forward. Stay inspired, keen, and check in with yourself: are you enjoying the process? Are you being too hard of yourself? You are your own worst critic. Be kind to yourself. Be patient. Trust the journey.

Where can people connect with you?

My compositions/ solo work:
My electronic/ pop duo:
My marimba duo:
Socials: @instagrej

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