25min, HD, 2012
Directed and produced by Bill Morrison
Music by Michael Harrison
Cellos performed by Maya Beiser
Produced by Steve Acunto, Capolavori Productions
In 'Just Ancient Loops', filmmaker Bill Morrison employs high resolution scans of ancient nitrate footage, as well as newly created CGI renderings, to depict different views of Heaven. With an original score by Michael Harrison, performed by cellist extraordinaire Maya Beiser.
Harrison’s glacially beautiful 2015 piece “Just Constellations” made the deepest connection to the place: 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
Just Constellations: Program Notes
I. The Opening Constellation: Summer
II. The Romantic Constellation: Autumn
III. The Magic Constellation: Winter (based on a theme by La Monte Young)
IV. The Acoustic Constellation: Spring
Ever since the 1980’s, when I started working as La Monte Young’s composition and tuning assistant, I wanted to compose a work like Just Constellations for specialized singers exploring gradually evolving constellations of tones in extended “just intonation” tunings. However, it was not until Brad Wells commissioned me to compose for Roomful of Teeth that the opportunity finally presented itself.
Just Constellations was completed in 2016 and recorded in the ultra-reverberant acoustics of the TANK Center for Sonic Arts in Rangely, Colorado in 2017. The work is comprised of four interconnected constellations of justly tuned chords and modes. The first three of these are related to harmonic regions of La Monte Young’s epic The Well-Tuned Piano. “The Magic Constellation” presents three variations of “The Theme of The Magic Chord,” which is one of the simplest, but most profound themes from The Well-Tuned Piano. “The Acoustic Constellation” is based on the fourth octave of the harmonic series and uses the “acoustic” mode with the 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th, 14th and 16th partials (I replace the 13th partial with the 27th partial transposed down an octave).
Nom-tom syllables are used throughout the work. Although the sounds of this ancient musical language are derived from mantras, they have no literal meaning. Nom-tom has been used by Indian classical vocalists for centuries to create beautiful vocal timbres and rhythmic accentuations. In “The Magic Constellation,” sargam syllables, or the Indian equivalent to solfege, are also used.
"Just intonation is the tuning system of the later ancient Greek modes as codified by Ptolemy; it was the aesthetic ideal of the Renaissance theorists; and it is the tuning practice of a great many musical cultures worldwide, both ancient and modern." (Gilmore, Bob, "Maximum Clarity" and Other Writings on Music.) It is any musical tuning in which the frequencies of notes are related by ratios of whole numbers. The two notes in any just interval are members of the same harmonic series and are called “just” or pure. Historic just intonation uses only notes derived from multiples of the prime numbers 2, 3 and 5, while “extended” just intonation includes higher primes such as 7, 11 and 13. Just intonation can be contrasted with equal temperament, which dominates most Western music and instruments, and compromises the sonic beauty, clarity, harmonic integrity, and diversity in intervallic relationships for the convenience of having 12 equally spaced notes.
"Just Constellations" was commissioned by Roomful of Teeth and supported by fellowships from Yaddo and the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts.
A quote on Michael's monumental work "Revelation: Music in Pure Intonation"
Music critic Tim Page wrote, "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."
"The Saturday of the Minimal Music Festival first of all brings us the overwhelming 'Revelation: Music in Pure Intonation' by the American composer and pianist Michael Harrison . A special piece, not least because of the clean mood that Harrison uses here. And extra special because the composer himself fully expresses it. The evening is for the more pop oriented experimental music with a variety of international acts." Ben Taffijn - Nieuwe Noten
"Because the harmonic piano plays on single strings with most intervals tuned pure to avoid beats, its tone is clearer and lighter than a conventional piano’s. Harrison has devised numerous tunings for his piano; however, he frequently employs a five-limit just intonation on one set of strings and a seven-limit just intonation on the other set, with four to six “common tones” (usually including F, C, G, and D) that are the same in both tunings. Traditional notation can be used, with markings to show when the una corda pedal is to be depressed and released." Grove Dictionary of Musical Instruments.
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