The mysterious power of music has intrigued thinkers across the centuries. Plato described a universe in which Sirens situated atop the rings of the cosmic whorl each sing a single note from a great scale, together producing concords that can transport mortals to the heavenly regions. In our own time we tend to use other metaphors to explain the phenomenon -- with terms like "brain scan" and "beta-endorphins" -- but when listening to an exquisite piece of music, who could deny the emotional truth of Plato's vision? Perhaps we respond so forcefully because, as Clement of Alexandria put it, the human body is itself a musical instrument. That was the view not only of the ancient Greeks but also of the Indian masters who strongly influenced Michael Harrison's musical development. Both proposed deep connections between the arrangements of tones and the human condition, and pointed to the most fundamental musical relationships -- those defined by Pythagoras in "whole number" proportions, as when strings vibrate in the ratio of 2:1, or 3:2, or 4:3 -- as being endowed with special qualities.
These comprise the tuning known as "just intonation," and generate the musical alchemy found throughout this intoxicatingly beautiful recording. In Just Ancient Loops, says cellist Maya Beiser, these unique musical relationships allow the sound of the cello to shimmer and bounce. "It's as if you are turning all the artificial lights off and just letting the rays of sunlight into your space," she says. In her recording and concert collaborations, Ms. Beiser has sought to redefine the traditional boundaries of the cello, opening new sonic possibilities for human expression. In this collaboration, Beiser and Harrison's musical and spiritual worlds converge.
"With Time Loops, I'm demonstrating the simpler and more harmonious aspects of just intonation," Michael says. "As a result the tunings on the CD don't push the boundaries, but rather they sound clearer and more direct than the normal equal tempered scale that is used in most Western music."
"I composed the music for Time Loops because I love Maya's playing, the incredible range and scope of the cello, and the way it compliments and contrasts with the piano," he says. "That appreciation can be savored in the opening three tracks [the 'Genesis,' 'Chorale' and 'Ascension' movements from Just Ancient Loops, a 25-minute musical odyssey for an orchestra of cellos, with each cello part recorded separately by Maya in the studio." (In concert, Ms. Beiser plays the lead part live, accompanied by a recording of all the other parts, along with a film created for the project by Bill Morrison that uses archival footage plus computer-generated images that relate the movement of the planets to the basic ratios of the musical overtone series.) "The cello becomes this 'uber instrument,'" Beiser explains, "laying down the drones, building rhythmical grooves on top of each other, singing melismatic melodies, and reaching up to the stratosphere as the music evolves and builds into a massive, exhilarating climax."
-- Stuart Isacoff