In Conversation: Michael Kieran Harvey

In Conversation: Michael Kieran Harvey

On discovering Frank Zappa, working collaboratively and caring less about what people think. 

Michael Kieran Harvey
Melbourne, Australia

In Conversation: Michael Kieran Harvey

On discovering Frank Zappa, working collaboratively and caring less about what people think. 

Let's talk Zappa: what about his music inspires you? How did you first discover his records?

His music was always a mixture of improvisation and notation. It was highly heterodox and bewilderingly eclectic. It mocked hypocrisy in whatever form, musical, social, political, religious, fashion, sexual, you name it. He trained the best players in the US. I discovered his records Trawling through Blue Light import records off Pitt St Sydney at age 12. 1973.

For Cage and Zappa at the Australian National Academy of Music, you'll be collaborating with percussionist Peter Neville and pianist Timothy Young. How did the collaboration come about and what has your rehearsal and preparation process looked like in the lead up to the performance? 

I have known these guys for decades, and we have been talking of a three-way collaboration almost as long. The collaboration is a result of a lot of hard work and good will by Tim and Peter. Peter has done some incredible arrangements of Zappa and my own pieces, and Tim has been researching Cage and putting together a truly forensic performance of these visionary works. I'm just lucky to be asked really! A lot of the show will come together in the week I'm resident there at ANAM, including some pretty surprising works by Zappa's Italian Baroque namesake, Francesco Zappa.

You've spoken about how risk and failure should be part of our culture because it stimulates innovation. Why is failure a useful part of creative process? How do you deal with (or nurture) failure in your personal practice as a composer and pianist? 

I was wrong when I said it should be part of our culture - of course our culture is a culture of failure already. We are surrounded by failure masquerading as success, as efficiency, as growth, as competition etc. I relish true failure. It is the essence of being human.

You have played a great variety of music in your career - from the great romantics to newly composed synth parts. What advice do you have for young musicians who would like to try a genre of music that feels initially out of their comfort zone? 

My advice? Don't move out of your comfort zone, it's scary and you might find it difficult to conform to society. You might start questioning. That way madness lies.

With school and university back in full swing for semester two, recitals and examinations are now just around the corner. When an important performance is coming up for you, how do you deal with any feelings of anxiety that crop up? 

Every performance is important, but only to me - I couldn't care less what others think. Those that do care should stick to exams and assessments, and define themselves by what others think of them. 

Do you have some tried-and-tested techniques for dealing with stage fright? 

Run like hell. Laugh.

ANAM presents Cage and Zappa at the South Melbourne Town Hall on the 12th August at 7pm. Tickets available here. Photo by Peter Mathew