Family Album-Talking Sound & Vision with Jake Harper

Family Album-Talking Sound & Vision with Jake Harper

By Laurel Wolff

Odds are, you’re reading this at the Buzz, maybe waiting for a latte or sitting at a table poking at your laptop. A chair scrapes back, a coat comes off, a toddler drops a spoon, a lunch order is taken, there’s a phone conversation you really don’t need to hear going on and the barista is at the machine that makes that steamy exhaust noise signaling hot milk deliciousness. Your mind might be wandering or concentrated on the art on the walls but whatever you’re doing, you’re doing it to the soundtrack of Buzz Cafe. And you’re a key player, an instrument in the cacophony. People generate sound- sometimes it’s beautiful music, sometimes it’s just plain noise.

At Bead in Hand, we are nosy. We watched as the walls of an artist’s studio across the street went from being covered in colorful crosshatches of paint to all white. One day, letters, reading Banrei and Family Album, appeared in the window. A photograph of two hands mirroring the same crossed finger gesture did too. We were so curious we put down our beads and googled. But we didn’t believe a thing we read because why, why, why would a guy who has done sonic art installations at Centre Pompidou and the National Gallery of China be across the street from us! (Love. That’s why.)

If we are all noisemakers at this big party called life, Jake Harper is a composer. The best way I can describe it is his artistic medium is sound- with people, usually in public spaces, being the catalyst of the sound to create an enriched environment on conscious and subconscious levels. Got it?

Banrei is the artist name Harper uses for his personal work which he describes as sonic releases, sculptural and performance projects and things that fit into a contemporary art conversation. Family Album is the name of his project space at 140 Harrison. Harper says, “I wanted the name to be fitting for the neighborhood in which I am situated. Because there are many families and small businesses in Oak Park, I wanted to suggest something like a family photo studio where you could drop in and have your family portrait taken. One of my current projects is driven by documenting family lineages through sound. So it has a double meaning because I have been making family albums there but in this case the album is a musical album.”

Harper has also created a design firm, Public Decibel, to fulfill the need for an infrastructure behind him as he works on commissions creating platforms for interactive sound in public space, and to better work with city planners, developers, and architects while he does so.

Harper was born in Washington DC in 1988. He grew up playing piano and composing. He says, “I was lucky to be exposed by my parents to great musicians and composers like Thelonious Monk and Duke Ellington, as well as to a lot of classical music, that I think prepared me and got me interested in seeking out edgier forms of expression.” Later, he was involved with the Blues Alley Youth Orchestra, an esteemed jazz supper club in Georgetown. As a part of the orchestra, he spent weekends hanging in the club listening to and getting to meet all the great jazz artists coming through DC. Time spent in the Smithsonian museums and regular access to Barnett Newman’s Stations of the Cross at the National Gallery of Art, in particular, were both fundamental in shaping his future aesthetic.

Harper studied Music Composition at NYU and then began the journey of becoming a Buddhist priest. He says, “I had every expectation that I would continue on to be a priest in Tokyo as my primary occupation. It has had a big impact on me at every level, including allowing me to acquire certain vital aesthetic tools I was seeking, as well as on a spiritual level in unexpected ways.”

Harper describes the previously mentioned hand gesture as part of the Buddhist tradition of casting signs and spells, though this particular sign is one of his own creations. “The index fingers are the crossing axes of happiness and sadness from a medicine wheel. The thumbs are the circumference of the wheel, an arc that is suggested but isn’t completed. The circumference represents the circle of life and death. By leaving this circle uncompleted it embraces the limitations of knowledge we have for this circle, what it could mean, and how it affects us.”

Reflecting upon his work, Harper states, “Sound has a huge impact on the emotional, neurological connections we form with places and experiences. Sound is also a medium that unfolds over time. Those two axis are very interesting to me, and sound happens to be a useful vehicle for dealing with both. So maybe the reason I have stuck with a sonic/compositional-based practice is because it has those two elements at its core.”

Tune in again to the Buzz around you. It would be really weird if it were silent.

Learn more and listen at & Nosy too & looking for more of the Love Story? Check out Art Wing Contemporary. Interested in being a part of the Family Album Project/AMNMA? Contact Jake at