All About Jazz

Home » Articles » CD/LP/Track Review

303

Michael Harrison: Revelation: Music in Pure Intonation

John Kelman By

Sign in to view read count
Certain instruments lend themselves more readily to unorthodox tunings. The guitar, for example, is an instrument tailor-made for alteration, with artists like Joni Mitchell creating dozens of altered tunings, encouraging approaches not possible with conventional tuning. Classical pianist/composer Michael Harrison has devised a unique tuning for the far more unwieldy piano that, while it may drive some piano tuners into a career change, yields remarkable and previously unheard of results on Revelation: Music in Pure Intonation.



Harrison, co-owner of one of the largest high-end piano retail and rebuilding firms in the country, is certainly qualified to consider alternate approaches, but it takes a distinctive imagination to create this tuning, an evolution of Just Intonation, where notes are distanced based on whole number ratios. It all sounds very pedantic and doctrinaire, but Revelation is anything but; a 72-minute tour-de-force that uses the minimalism of composers like Terry Riley and, in particular, La Monte Young (with whom Harrison studied) as a starting point, but speaks with a compositional voice, all its own.



Harrison's tuning allows for harmonic relationships that are simply impossible on a conventionally tuned piano, but while there are passages of dissonance and intensity on Revelation, this is largely an album of unexpected beauty. The opening "Revealing the Tones" might fit comfortably alongside ambient composer Harold Budd's lyrical and elegant music except that, unlike the majority of Budd's music, Revelation is a completely in-the-moment recording, with no overdubs, digital reverb, equalization or compression used—although the natural reverb suggests that the recording was made in a large room.



The more atmospheric but equally spare "Night Vigil II," possesses a micro-tonality that is pervasive of the entire disc, and creates an unexpected but delicate sense of tension amidst Harrison's restrained melodism. The quiet majesty of "Revealing the Commas" bears a hint of Erik Satie, but also a very un-Satie-like series of propulsive ascending and descending chords that seem to contradict the reality that this music is being made by one person alone.



A series of four "Tone Cloud" compositions best illustrate Harrison's innovative approach, often relying on minimalist-like repetition; but in the same way that artists like Steve Reich have long since expanded beyond the confines of early minimalism, so too does Harrison. There's a greater sense of density and forward motion on these pieces, which contrast sharply with the impressionistic simplicity of "Homage to La Monte" and brooding "Vision in the Desert." Still, there's an odd underlying sensuality about Revelation, despite an unorthodox sense of unease.



In a time when more music is being released than ever before, it's rare to come across an album that breaks new ground in such a significant way. While Harrison's music has its precedents, his Pure Intonation opens up entirely new ways to approach the piano. While the close proximity of his harmonies would suggest music that's jagged and angular, Revelation proves that there can be beauty in discord, and tranquility in the most unexpected of places.


Track Listing: Revealing the Tones; Night Vigil; Revealing the Commas; Tone Cloud I; Homage to La Monte; Tone Cloud II; Night Vigil II; Vision in the Desert; Carillon; Tone Cloud III; Finale; Tone Cloud IV.

Personnel: Michael Harrison: piano, composer.

Title: Revelation: Music in Pure Intonation | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Cantaloupe Music

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Related Articles

Read Seymour Reads The Constitution! CD/LP/Track Review
Seymour Reads The Constitution!
by Doug Collette
Published: May 23, 2018
Read Colours of Sound CD/LP/Track Review
Colours of Sound
by Jack Bowers
Published: May 23, 2018
Read A Blast From The Past CD/LP/Track Review
A Blast From The Past
by Roger Farbey
Published: May 23, 2018
Read Rhapsody CD/LP/Track Review
Rhapsody
by Glenn Astarita
Published: May 23, 2018
Read You're Driving Me Crazy CD/LP/Track Review
You're Driving Me Crazy
by C. Michael Bailey
Published: May 23, 2018
Read Dirt...And More Dirt CD/LP/Track Review
Dirt...And More Dirt
by Karl Ackermann
Published: May 22, 2018
Read "Roppongi" CD/LP/Track Review Roppongi
by Mark Sullivan
Published: January 19, 2018
Read "Musical Journey Through Time" CD/LP/Track Review Musical Journey Through Time
by Roger Farbey
Published: June 29, 2017
Read "Lighthouse" CD/LP/Track Review Lighthouse
by Mark Sullivan
Published: December 15, 2017
Read "The Lovers card" CD/LP/Track Review The Lovers card
by James Nadal
Published: August 15, 2017
Read "Mikrojazz!: Neue Expressionistische Musik" CD/LP/Track Review Mikrojazz!: Neue Expressionistische Musik
by Dan Bilawsky
Published: September 5, 2017
Read "The Wishing Stones" CD/LP/Track Review The Wishing Stones
by Friedrich Kunzmann
Published: January 13, 2018