Recently Santa Fe New Music, John Kennedy’s important and resourceful organization - the only true resource for new music in New Mexico - presented a terrific concert by pianist and composer Michael Harrison. As you can learn from Michael’s website he is dedicated to music in just intonation. Or more simply, tuning of the musical scales that are closer to nature (as opposed to equal temperment) the system that controls western musical praxis. Michael is a student of pioneering composers LaMont Young and Terry Riley, and like them focuses his musical interests on the tuning of and performance on the piano. In order to perform his music in just intonation, the piano must be completely re-tuned, a process that is difficult and time consuming, something that most piano tuners do not wish to do. Prior to his performance in Santa Fe at the Center for Contemporary Art, Michael spent three days in Albuquerque overseeing the tuning of the piano that was used in his performance and practicing on that instrument at Charles Pianos, the only aurhorized Steinway dealer in the state of New Mexico. During his visit Michael stayed with Laurel and me, meeting several of our friends and taking in Laurel’s fantastic cooking. Tuning (and re-tuning) the instrument is a rigurous process, one that Charles Remple, owner of Charles Pianos, did quite well. After hauling the piano from Albuquerque to Santa Fe and continually re-tuning it, Michael was set to give a complete performance of his beautiful work titled “Revelation,” a work in 12 distinct movements lasting 75 minutes, with short pauses between movements to adjust certain aspects of his performance techniques.
The new gallery space at the Center for Contemporary Art in Santa Fe is a resonant space, hence its being chosen by John Kennedy to present this work. Having just spent several days deep into talking about and listening to musical works in pure intonation, we were pretty psyched to hear the actual performance. And Michael did not disappoint. He gave a muscular performance, seemingly void of fatigue as he moved through the extreme dynamic articulations that are demanded as one coaxes from and hammers on the keyboard to bring out the sonorities that are emitted from the just-intoned piano strings. As the resonant space embraced and enhanced those sonorities, a swirl of sound colored the gallery space until the final gesture - 72 minutes after he began the work - drifted into silence. The ears, having settled on the purity of the sound world that just intonation creates, is cleansed. They buzz in appreciation of having been sonically cleansed. Until, that is, the next equal tempered tune distorts the air. One can, fortunately, find solace in a number of recordings made in just intonation, including the work that transformed many of us last week, “Revelation,” on Cantaloupe Recoreds.