Boomkat Product Review:
Pauline Oliveros and Terry Riley collaborator Loren Rush returns to Recital with a fractal set of just intonation piano improvisations, a startling contrast to last year's ace "Dans le Sable". Delicate and disarming music, one for fans of Morteza Mahjubi's genius (and very prescient) Iranian piano experiments.
Since back in the late 1950s, Bay Area-based Loren Rush has been operating quietly within the Californian experimental music scene, working alongside Terry Riley, Pauline Oliveros and Robert Ericksen and co-founding Stanford University’s Center for Computer Research in Music and Acoustics. Last year's Recital-released "Dans le Sable" was an introduction to his canon for many listeners, highlighting his ambitious orchestral work; "Omaggio a Giuseppe Ungaretti" is completely different, a more intimate and improvisational expression that's rooted in the tonal color of a piano tuned using just intonation.
That's a technique that's never been more commonly referenced: regular Western tuning is known as "equal temperament" and the piano is an instrument that's been built around this standard. Just intonation meanwhile adjusts the intervals between notes to whole-number ratios, a system that links back to the ancient Greeks and gives performers more control of tonal fluctuation. The sound can be unusual to hear at first, but once your ears adjust to the vibrations it's revelatory.
On "Omaggio a Giuseppe Ungaretti", Rush uses The Enhanced Piano in Just Intonation, an electronically enhanced piano developed by composer Alfred Owens to add increased resonance and color to the instrument. His reason for this is evident immediately as he works with dynamics and ornate tonal fluctuations on 'Eternal' - our immediate comparison is the work of Iranian pianist Morteza Mahjubi who developed a microtonal tuning system for piano in the 1950s that allowed him to perform classical Iranian music. Rush's compositions are of course more informed American minimalism, but break away from staid academia with harmonic fluctuations that sound expressive and human.
The album was inspired by poems Giuseppe Ungaretti wrote while in the trenches during World War I. Born in Alexandria and raised partially in Paris, Ungaretti overcame the horror of war by thinking back to his earlier life, turning death's misery into flourishing beauty. Rush captures Ungaretti's spirit by gesturing towards Egyptian music without attempting to mimic it, similarly there's a gaze that strikes Parisian musical traditions, cutting it with the studied calm of the West Coast deep listening set. 'Veglia' ("vigil") might be the album's most characteristic moment, a tense long-form piece that's complex and ornate but driven by passion.
Rush's unusual tuning allows him to capture difficult emotions, making for soul-stirring music that's not easily forgotten.