WHAT CRITICS AND COMPOSERS ARE SAYING ABOUT MICHAEL HARRISON'S MUSIC

… a virtuosic tour-de-force…

“Say it plainly — Michael Harrison's Revelation: Music in Pure Intonation is probably the most brilliant and original extended composition for solo piano since the early works of Frederic Rzewski three decades ago (and no, I am not forgetting Elliott Carter). What could have been a mere glossary of unfamiliar sonorities made possible by Harrison's unconventional tuning of a grand piano turned instead into a virtuosic tour-de-force that would have done credit to the hypothetical team of Franz Liszt and Claude Debussy working overtime.” 

Tim Page, review of Revelation from Spoleto Festival USA   

 

... we hear a brilliant sound-haze swirl, a thunderstorm of sounds… [Revelation is] one long intoxication.

 

“As soon as the first notes sound, you know: the piano sounds very different from what we are used to. In a certain way more natural, more organic, whereby the sound resembles bells and clocks… For example, in the part where the rhythmic patterns sound like a carillon, between which we hear a brilliant sound-haze swirl, or further on with pulsating rhythmic patterns where the same happens, or in the very last part, where Harrison pulls everything out of the cupboard in a thunderstorm of sounds, pounding his arms on the keys. And when he stops, we hear those overtones fade out very slowly. A wonderful moment… And what makes him different is that he is also a lyricist who manages to provide his patterns with a melodic dimension. The one and a half hour that the piece finally takes is therefore one long intoxication.” 

Ben Taffijin, Nieuwe Noten, review of Revelation from Minimal Music Festival, Muziekgebouw aan 't IJ

“… glacially beautiful… luminous…”

 

“Harrison’s glacially beautiful 2015 piece Just Constellations made the deepest connection to the place [The Tank]: as luminous chords accumulated, it was difficult to tell which pitches were coming from live singers and which were coming out of the walls.” 

Alex Ross, The New Yorker

“… the notes rang out like a jubilantly microtonal choir of bells.”

 

“‘The Opening Constellation’ section proved particularly arresting, a celestial soundscape of gorgeous harmonies that became even more alluringly ambiguous in the ensuing ‘Romantic Constellation.’ In the concluding ‘Acoustic Constellations,’ the notes rang out like a jubilantly microtonal choir of bells.” 

 

Vivian Schweitzer, The New York Times, review of Just Constellations from Park Avenue Armory

“Michael Harrison's Just Constellations explored the opposite of reckless heterogeneity. Influenced by seminal minimalist La Monte Young, the music isn't repetitive so much as it settles onto a single chord and evolves so subtly it's like watching a landscape in changing light.”

David Patrick Stearns, The Philadelphia Inquirer

“An American Maverick" 

 

Philip Glass, Composer 

“The word ‘maverick’ is overused in the contemporary music world. But in the case of composer Michael Harrison and cellist Maya Beiser, the descriptor is deserved.” 

 

Chloe Veltman, WQXR, Q2 “Music Album of the Week,” album review of Time Loops

 “Harrison is bound to profoundly influence the musicians of his generation.” 

 

Terry Riley, Composer 

“Harrison will bring the beauty of just intonation to all lands.” 

 

La Monte Young, Composer

“… a blend of East and West, soars in interlocking swirls of color…” 

 

Just Ancient Loops, with its evocative drone and pizzicato opening, unfolds like a journey. The music, with its blend of East and West, soars in interlocking swirls of color, rests in a central chorale and builds steam to an ecstatic conclusion, sounding as if it has always been here.”

 

Tom Huizenga, NPR “Top Classical Albums of 2012”  

“… an exalting, almost breathless new plane… a vast ecstatic ocean of sound.”

 

“But it was Michael Harrison’s Just Ancient Loops that lifted the evening to an exalting, almost breathless new plane. The 25-minute work (built on just intonation, ancient modes and electronic loops) opens innocuously, with buoyant riffs over a quiet drone, and you think you’re in for a travelogue. But its power builds with unstoppable force, deepening and expanding with irresistible energy, and by the climax Beiser was filling the hall with a vast ecstatic ocean of sound.” 

 

Stephen Brookes, The Washington Post

 

Just Ancient Loops… propels viewers through time and space… a music of the spheres.” 

 

“If there really is a music of the spheres, the sound of a fundamental harmony in the universe, it has to be Just Ancient Loops, a 2012 work by composer Michael Harrison. Played on the cello, and complemented by a film created from archival clips and a recreation of Jupiter’s moons in orbit, Just Ancient Loops… propels viewers through time and space, landing them in the present, elated… The work evolves from a single musical pattern or loop into approximately 20 more, which, when performed live, with some of the loops having been prerecorded, blend and soar into something primal.” 

 

Kevin Berger, Nautilus

“… a spectacle… The day's glitziest work…”

 

“The Bang on a Can Marathon is always good for a spectacle or two. The day's glitziest work was Michael Harrison's Just Ancient Loops, which cellist Maya Beiser performed along with some 20 electronic versions of herself [and] accompanying video work by Bill Morrison…” 

Richard Gehr, The Village Voice 

 

“Michael Harrison’s Just Ancient Loops, an appealing mix of live and recorded cello lines, raga-inspired drones and Minimalist rhythms performed by Maya Beiser, was enhanced by Bill Morrison’s film, recorded on archival and decaying celluloid, and repurposed for Georges Méliès­ style fantasy  and sublimity.”

 

Steve Smith, The New York Times

“… strips away centuries of well-tempered convention…” 

 

“Mr. Harrison strips away centuries of well-tempered convention to reveal naked notes, which he stacks up in clear chords or swirling clouds.”

 

Anne Midgette, The New York Times “Classical’s Best and Brightest Recordings,” album review of Revelation

“… trance-inducing”

 

“This hour-plus trance-inducing solo piano work is a vast experiment in ‘pure intonation.’ Using an original tuning for the piano, Harrison makes it hum and vibrate in ways that sound both ancient and modern.”

Jeremy Eichler, The Boston Globe “Top CD Picks,” album review of Revelation

“… completely absorbing.”

 

“Michael Harrison, Revelation: Pianist-composer Harrison documented his just-intonation solo manifesto, and the results were completely absorbing.”

Steve Smith, Time Out New York “Top Ten Recordings” 

“Revelation is a caressing, cataclysmic, monumentally over-the-top ode… a sonic bomb… you might think all the bells of the Vatican have entered your skull… by the hallucinatory end, it’s all stars and rainbows.” 

 

Mark Swed, The Los Angeles Times 

 

“Revelation is more than simply a composition. It's an entire sound world, created by selecting certain pure acoustic intervals and arranging them on the piano keyboard.” 

 

Joshua Kosman, San Francisco Chronicle

 

“… a new harmonic world began to assert itself.” 

 

Paul Griffiths, The New York Times, review of Revelation 

“… wondrous… vaporous – as if a choir of angels were singing along."

 

“Think of Wagner's Tristan chord, Debussy's Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun, Schoenberg's Op. 23 Piano Pieces, or Cage's Sonatas and Interludes for Prepared Piano. Each created new possibilities for their day, transforming the musical soundscape far beyond its traditional boundaries... The same can be said of Michael Harrison's music. The results are often wondrous. In the midst of clouds of dense clusters rapidly drummed in the bass end of the instrument, an astute listener can perceive high ghost tones -- sometimes bell-like, at other times vaporous -- as if a choir of angels were singing along."

 

Stuart Isacoff, Author

 

“… dripping colors through space… a tour of beautiful and exotic ‘non-Euclidean musical worlds.’”

 

“Composer Michael Harrison has gone further than other musicians would dare, creating a customized piano to perform in his self-invented, idiosyncratic method of tuning. The outcome is a lofty work ‘both archaic and avant-garde.’ As the pieces ‘build, refract, and climb,’ you are pulled into Harrison’s ‘beauty/madness.’ His technique, known as Pure Intonation, conjures age-old tuning methods that when unearthed sound refreshingly modern. Revelation thus establishes certain musical expectations only to refute them, pulling the bottom out from under you and leaving behind only ‘imagination and that damning, beautiful piano dripping colors through the space.’ Harrison is ‘like a magician setting up a trick,’ He transforms overtones, welcomes their clashes, and keeps his audience surprised and thoroughly captivated, taking them on a tour of beautiful and exotic ‘non-Euclidean musical worlds.’” 

The Week, album review of Revelation 

 

“With the tones stirred on the scale, totally different colors glowed red-hot… the crashing of a gong, bells, the plucking of a harp or sitar, the sound of a horn—the resonance nearly reaches one’s abdomen.” 

 

Von Elisabeth Elling, Westfalisher Anzeiger, review of Revelation from Klavier Festival Ruhr  

 

 “… something magical has happened.”

 

“As Michael Harrison has pressed further into the map of his musical life, something magical has happened. The map is folding in on itself, with the seemingly distant now adjacent regions overlapping, simple lines becoming multi-dimensional.” 

David Dies, I Care if You Listen (cover story)

“… a willingness to take risks... The result was simply exhilarating.”

 

“Terry Riley’s ‘In C’… was the focus of a recent project at the Rhode Island School of Design, where a group of nearly 40 architecture students took on the task… Mr. Harrison used raga, music theory and sound technology, and Mr. Gersten, drawings, essays, film and construction to explore space and design from multiple perspectives… the students presented this work, along with multi-media projections and mime, before an audience of some 70 patrons in the RISD Museum’s Grand Gallery, a large room whose four walls are covered with paintings from the sixteenth, seventeenth, eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Pulling it off was a serious challenge requiring discipline, a willingness to take risks, and real grit. The result was simply exhilarating.”

Stuart Isacoff, The Wall Street Journal

 

“… a wonderful soundscape… absolutely stunning.”

 

“Harrison uses raga-inspired drones, minimalist rhythms and textures, and beautiful melodies to encompass us in a wonderful soundscape all inspired by ancient modes. The purity and beauty that is obtained from the cello in this piece is… absolutely stunning.”

Sam Reising, I Care If You Listen, album review of Time Loops

“… an otherworldly excursion into the farthest reaches of the string universe.”

 

“Long, sustained pitches—combined with minimal vibrato and keenly accurate intonation—produced a pleasing minimalist drone, for an otherworldly excursion into the farthest reaches of the string universe.”

 

Bruce Hodges, The Strad, review of Harmonic Constellations

 

“… lovely and hypnotic.”

 

“Michael Harrison’s Harmonic Constellations (2016) is the title track of the disc and the longest work on the program. It pairs the live violin with a prerecorded part of both violin tracks and sine-tones… The result, over its 20-plus minutes, is lovely and hypnotic.”

Robert Carl, Fanfare 

 

“… a mesmerizing meditative soundspace…”

 

“Harrison’s’ Radians Phase II (2015), a world premiere, features flute, clarinet, violin, cello, plus fixed electronics. Built of long, slow notes over ambient sounds, it created a mesmerizing meditative soundspace and a palpable sense of expectation.” 

Arlene & Larry Dunn, I Care If You Listen

“...the evening's longest and most appealing piece: … Michael Harrison and Bill Morrison’s Just Ancient Loops. Also touched by raga-style drones…, modal and minimalist influences, Harrison’s three-part suite gloriously demonstrated the alluring power of those mathematically and musically beautiful intervals. It was probably the most purely beautiful performance I’ve ever experienced at TBA.“

 

Brett Campbell, TBA Diaries

 

“Harrison… creates dream like worlds with the psychological effects of these tunings and this work is a stunning example.”

 

Allan J. Cronin, New Music Buff, review of Cello Constellations

 

“A monumental work… the pulsing, gamelan-like waves Harrison conjures from his customized ‘harmonic piano’ have a hypnotic effect… Revelation sounds like a lullaby that would put only a mad scientist to sleep.”

 

Bradley Bambarger, The Star-Ledger, album review of Revelation

 

“A pulsating, shimmering wall of sound in which all kinds of ghost-like sound effects and structures appear. A formidable pianist, Harrison… has a fascination with reconciling form and improvisation through raga-like structures, which beckon towards an unexplored universe of sound relationships.” 

 

Marcus Boon, The Wire, album review of Revelation 

 

Revelation should prove to be one of the most influential piano compositions of the 21st century.” 

 

Frank J. Oteri, editor of American Music Center’s NewMusicBox.org 

 

 “… phantom overtones and resonances seemed to hover around him.” 

 

Jon Pareles, The New York Times, review of Revelation

 

“An indisputable landmark in Western tuning’s circuitous history.” 

 

Kyle Gann, The Village Voice, review of the harmonic piano  

“What is the next big thing? Michael Harrison’s 90-minute Revelation is that sort of revolutionary work…” 

 

Stuart Isacoff, The New York Sun 

 

“… you play the vividly specific, spine-chilling intervals on [Harrison’s] ‘just’ piano, and then everything sounds so bland and washed-out and arbitrary and disappointing on the conventionally tuned one.” 

 

Kyle Gann, The Village Voice 

 

“Glorious clouds of harmonics, …divine thunder, angel choirs, celestial bells.” 

 

Sandy McCroskey, The Nation, album review of Revelation

Revelation is a 90-minute marathon for solo piano employing an otherworldly vocabulary of sounds and effects.” 

 

Brian Wise, The New York Times 

“The intelligent discrimination with which he approaches his work is something that I have heard only in a tiny handful of classical recordings starting with Glenn Gould.” 

 

Stephen Hill, National Public Radio 

Revelation is one of the first great musical pieces of the 21st century.” 

 

Joseph Shaw, The Southampton Press 

Revelation belongs among the exhaustive modern masterpieces for solo piano, resting securely at the same level as Hindemith’s Ludus Tonalis, Shostakovich’s Preludes and Fugues, Cage’s Sonatas & Interludes, Duckworth’s Time Curve Preludes, and La Monte Young’s The Well-Tuned Piano.” 

 

Richard Kostelanetz, Author 

Jaunpuri is based on a traditional Indian raga, but shaped with Western compositional notation, structures, and harmony. An embellished piano melody twirls and spins through a buzzing tabla and tanpura trance, building in intensity until the circling rhythmic cycles spin out into a breathtaking rhapsody.”

 

Maggie Molloy, album review of Histories 

 

“The heart of the album consists of two compositions by Michael Harrison for piano in just intonation, tanpura and tabla. Jaunpuri is a mesmerizing piece, a nocturnal raga of Hindustani classical music, animated by an irresistible wave movement between the melancholy short piano introduction and the early coda. The play, sometimes briefly meditative, sometimes overflowing with ecstatic joy, is characterized by long lyrical brilliant developments. A wonder! Hijaz Prelude, for the same instruments, can be considered as forming a diptych with the previous, yet it is more internalized and structured on more audible loops. The atmosphere is close to a trance brotherhood. Song of forgetfulness of the self in the drunkenness of sounds, the twirling of the piano notes on the drone or tanpura and the prominent strokes of the tabla. A second wonder!”

 

Inactuelles Musiques Singulieres, album review of Histories 

“An inventive composer whose works contain echoes of contemporary and Oriental music all in the service of an engaging melodic gift.” 

 

John Schaefer, New Sounds, WNYC, New York 

“An old-guard pioneer of experimental piano writing.” 

 

The New Yorker 

 

“Often it sounds as if there is a whole orchestra of acoustic and electronic instruments accompanying the piano. Literal waves of sound wash over the audience…and after sitting through 90 minutes of this tuning, regular pianos seem colorless.” 

 

Amanda MacBlane, New York Press, review of Revelation 

 

“Harrison gives the piano a versatility of sound never heard before, ranging from harp to guitar to sitar.” 

 

Annie Bergen, WQXR, New York 

 

“If the walls of an ancient European cathedral of Middle Eastern monastery could sing, this is what you’d hear.” 

 

C.W. Vrtacek, The Advocate, album review of From Ancient Worlds  

 

“In each age, composers have transformed the piano according to their needs; and Harrison’s is the next great step in that development.” 

 

Stuart Isacoff, Author 

 

“… the kind of finely shaded spectrum we might achieve in the third millennium.” 

 

Kyle Gann, The Village Voice, review of From Ancient Worlds

 “Harrison has perfected a way of playing in just intonation at the piano… such celestial resonance that it captures your attention from the first note.” 

 

Linda Kohanov, contributing editor, CD Review 

 

“The best of both worlds: the delectable just-tuned piano sound with the ability of harmonic motion found in traditional classical works.” 

 

Bob Reina, Stereophile “RECORDS 2 DIE 4,” album review of From Ancient Worlds  

 

“The tuning system and modified strings transform the piano’s sound, creating a strangely ‘Eastern” timbre, with sustained overtones.” 

 

Jon Andrews, Downbeat, album review of From Ancient Worlds    

 

“It is mesmerizing! The tuning is certainly a revelation.” 

 

Seymour Bernstein, Pianist & Author 

 

Revelation is a visionary development in the history of temperament.” 

 

Kirk Nurock, Composer & Pianist 

 

“The science of music has taken a significant step forward.” 

 

Deedee Finney, New York Post, album review of From Ancient Worlds  

 

  

“A devoted and developing artist in an age of empty virtuosity and show bizness-as-usual.” 

 

Ed Strickland, Fanfare, album review of From Ancient Worlds   

© 2019 by Michael Harrison