James Harley, born 1959, Vernon, B.C., Canada, began studying composition in 1980. Prior to that, he had been active as a pianist, jazz and classical, played percussion, and also studied electroacoustics at Western Washington University. After graduating in 1982, he took up residence in the UK, in order to study composition with Paul Patterson at the Royal Academy of Music. Recipient of grants from the Canada Council and the Leverhulme Trust, among others, Harley remained in London for three years, benefitting from a number of performances and prizes.
In 1985, having been awarded the prestigious Mendelssohn Scholarship, which enables British composers to spend a period abroad, he moved to Paris. There, Harley studied aesthetics with Iannis Xenakis, musical acoustics at the Université de Paris, attended seminars at IRCAM and the College de France (Pierre Boulez), and worked extensively with the UPIC computer music system at CEMAMu. While in Paris, Harley won a number of prizes, including two in the 1986 CBC Radio Young Composers Competition in Canada.
Then, in 1987, Harley moved on to Warsaw, thanks to a Polish Government Scholarship, to spend a year at the Chopin Academy of Music. He attended the composition class of Wlodzimierz Kotonski, participated in the Summer Courses for Young Composers organized by the Polish Society for Contemporary Music, and had a piece premiered at the 1987 Warsaw Autumn Festival.
In 1988, Harley returned to North America, taking up doctoral studies at McGill University in Montreal. Under the guidance of Bruce Pennycook and Bo Alphonce, he pursued research there in the domain of computer-aided composition, developing CHAOTICS, compositional software based on functions derived from chaos theory.
Harley graduated in 1994 with his D.Mus. in composition, having completed a large-scale thesis work, Cantico Delle Creature, under the supervision of John Rea and Bruce Mather. Over the next year, supported by a major Artist’s Grant from the Conseil des Arts et des Lettres du Quebec, he composed a series of chamber works, also teaching part-time in the Faculty of Music at McGill University. In 1995, Harley took up a sabbatical replacement position as Assistant Professor at Wilfrid Laurier University in Waterloo, Ontario. There, he taught composition, electroacoustics, contemporary music theory/literature, and directed the Electronic Music Studio. At the same time, he completed a major commission for the Musiques-Echanges festival in Montreal. In the fall of 1996, Harley moved to Los Angeles, and has taught part-time at USC and the California Institute of the Arts. In 1999, he began teaching in Minnesota, directing the Music Technology program at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He has continued to compose to various commissions, and has seen a number of his works released on CD.
Harley is married to Maria Anna Harley, musicologist and Director of the Polish Music Reference Center at the University of Southern California, and has three children: Marcin (b. 1979), Ania (b. 1989), and Ian (b. 1993).