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Home » Discover Rackham » Student Spotlight: Patrick Harlin

When asked what is the favorite piece of music he’s written, he smiles and says, “Hopefully the one I compose next. You have a sense there’s more you can always do with a piece, and I take that energy and put it into the next one.”

Hailing from the Pacific Northwest, Patrick has always composed and played piano. “At my undergraduate institution, I had to be on board with a composition and performance major right away – or not. It stuck. I came to U-M because it has one of the best composition programs and composers to study with and I really connected to their music. They have a great reputation in the arts community. And I could see myself living in this town.”

Patrick’s music is largely inspired by nature. “The outdoors is a part of the culture where I’m from, and nature found its way into my music, influencing what I was writing.” That influence stayed with him and is shaping his doctoral research here at U-M.

Patrick’s dissertation is comprised of both a lengthy musical composition and research that establishes baseline soundscape profiles. It samples two areas, the remote Book Cliffs region in the United States and parts of the Amazon rainforest. The Book Cliffs is subject to imminent oil exploration and drilling pending an environmental impact report to which this dissertation can contribute, and the Amazon is under continual pressure to extract natural resources. Extensive field recordings from these areas are incorporated into the composition, which draws parallels between the concert hall and the natural world.

“Through art I will convey complex theories in soundscape ecology to a broad audience, and through the data gathered, argue for the continued preservation of these sonic landscapes and the increasing importance of sound as an indicator of the condition of an ecosystem,” Patrick hopes. “These two places are very different in terms of their geography and acoustic profile. They are also unspoiled natural places with a high probability of changing significantly in the near future.”

At U-M, Patrick finds inspiration from his peers, saying, “People at Michigan are doing cool things; they are incredibly smart in ways in completely different fields. They inspire me to do my best in my field.” When asked what he does for fun when he’s not composing or researching, he says, “I’m lucky that my job is what I love to do.”

Patrick is an accomplished composer, with works commissioned by organizations across the country and performed from Ann Arbor to St. Louis to Argentina. Rapture, a recent composition, was inspired by the experiences of ‘super cavers’ when they resurface in a panic after weeks underground. “It was played by the St. Louis Symphony earlier this year, and the U-M Symphony band gave it a fantastic premiere as a symphony band piece in March”

A Rackham travel grant allowed him the opportunity to travel to Argentina for the premier of one of his orchestral commissions. Patrick continues, I’ve been able to travel a lot, from the Sahara Desert to Costa Rica to Asia. I see pictures of these places and feel like the thing that is missing from this image is how it sounds. The Sahara is so quiet it almost hurts. Costa Rica is vibrating, humming. I want to create that sound postcard.”

After he finishes his doctorate, Patrick hopes to continue freelance composing, ultimately pursuing a composer in residence position with an orchestra or a faculty position that allows him to continue honing his craft. “Faculty at a place like U-M have often the best of both worlds, with a foot in the classroom and concert hall. They are incredibly active – at the top of the list of active composers. I’d love that.”

Please visit Patrick's website to learn more about his work.