Michael Harrison

New York
Artist in Residence, 2024

Artist Statement

I am a contemporary classical composer and pianist specializing in working with Indian classical music and just intonation (non-tempered) tunings. I am very interested in the creative process in all of the arts, and my professional engagements have included collaborations with filmmakers, visual artists, architects, and choreographers.

I started working with just intonation in 1979 while studying and singing Indian classical music with Pandit Pran Nath and composers La Monte Young and Terry Riley. I started noticing that pianos always sounded out of tune and realized that I was hearing the compromises of the modern tuning. I came to New York City to study as La Monte Young’s tuning and performance assistant. Later I created the “harmonic piano,” a grand piano able to play 24 notes per octave. I continue a rigorous study and practice of both Indian music and just intonation piano which informs my entire approach to music.

While at Headlands

At Headlands I will be creating my “Raga Cycle” and a related multimedia installation. Based on North Indian classical ragas, which correspond to the different hours, my Raga Cycle will ultimately consist of 24 hours of professional recordings adapting 24 ragas to all 24 hours of the day and night. The installation is a collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison, who is creating a live feed from 24 surveillance cameras from 24 different time zones around the planet that will project on 24 screens simultaneously. The Raga Cycle is composed of structured improvisations and notated compositions for piano, vocals, tabla and electronics. The music also creates hybrid relationships with elements of Western music, including harmony, polyphony, polyrhythms, electroacoustic instruments and production techniques. A primary element of the project is adapting the ragas and techniques of Indian classical music for the piano, which is tuned in my unique adaptation of just intonation.

Select Audio Recordings

Playlist of 11 excerpts from the Raga Cycle

Michael Harrison, composition, just intonation piano & tuning design; Ina Filip, vocals; Elliot Cole, synthesizer; Benoit Rolland, sound design; Shawn Mativetsky, tabla. From “Passage” installation, Turchin Center for the Visual Arts, Boone, NC, 2023.

Just Ancient Loops

Three movements of a 25 minute work for 20 cellos commissioned and recorded by Maya Beiser. Premiered at the Bang on a Can Marathon in NYC, 2012 with a film by Bill Morrison and released on Cantaloupe Music in 2012.

Just Constellations

Four movements of a 21 minute work for 8 voices commissioned and recorded by Grammy-winning Roomful of Teeth in The TANK Center for the Sonic Arts. Premiered at MASS MoCA in 2016 and released on New Amsterdam Records in 2020.

Revelation: Music in Pure Intonation

12 movements of a 72 minute work composed and performed by Michael Harrison for piano tuned in Harrison’s “Revelation” tuning. Released on Cantaloupe Music in 2007.