Boomkat Product Review:
Composer, pianist and Pandit Pran Nath and La Monte Young acolyte Michael Harrison sits at the center of this new collaboration, drawing on North Indian classical music traditions to explore just intonation and deep listening concepts with John Also Bennett on modular synthesizer and Christina Vantzou acting as conductor.
Almost always tuned to a system of equal temperament, the piano is almost synonymous with the restrictions of Western classical music, so trying to edge it into Turkish, Iranian, Indian or Chinese modes is a difficult task. Morteza Mahjubi attempted it in the 1950s by developing a unique tuning system that allowed for the piano to be played in a way not unlike the santoor, and the results can be scanned on the two genius "Selected Improvisations from Golha" sets on Death Is Not The End. Michael Harrison endeavours to climb the same hurdle by using just intonation, a way of tuning that uses whole number ratios, or pure intervals, instead of equal temperament.
On this self-titled project, Harrison absorbs North Indian classical music into his performance, using ragas to guide his hand. With just intoned piano, he's capable of glancing the tiny tones - not perfect quarter or half tones but more subtle intervals - that in Indian tradition represent pure emotion, sacred energy that can't even be put into words. Bennett also plays piano, but his contributions are more obvious when he uses theamodular synthesizer as a de facto tanpura, creating a drone note for Harrison's raga-inspired improvisations. Vantzou meanwhile gives the record a subtle thematic push, setting the scene with field recordings on 'Piano on Tape' and whisking us away into a moonlit clearing, or conducting an alien mood on the haunting 'Sirens'.
It's music for magical moments that hides its intentions in the least likely of places. Harrison's skill is in never overstating his purpose - his delicate ragas ache with feeling, but resist any level of overbearing emotional manipulation.