Friday, May 29, 2009

Spoleto's closely guarded secret

Posted by John Stoehr on Fri, May 29, 2009 at 3:06 PM

8eaa/1243624003-harrison_cropped.jpgRemember I told you about trying to get a picture of Micheal Harrison's silver comb-like thing with variously sized "teeth." That's the best gadget of Spoleto in my view and quite simply awesome. Harrison uses it to press down and suspend selected keys on the piano. That way he's free to create a swirling mass of vibration and harmonic overtones.

Like I said, awesome.

Back to the picture. I couldn't get one at the recital, and in retrospect it's a good thing I didn't surreptitiously snap one with my cell phone. I wrote Harrison about the device and asked if he would provide a small image to accompany my post on Spoleto Buzz. Requests like this happen all the time behind the media scene and I had no reason to think Harrison wouldn't comply (I expected a jpeg taken with his phone).

But Harrison couldn't because he made a promise.

While Harrison is up front with audiences about why and how he invented a novel system of tonality — he calls it "just-intonation" — his teacher, La Monte Young, wasn't so open-minded. Young was evidently guarded about who should know about his alternate tuning system and why. He invented the original forms of those silver comb-like things, and entrusting Harrison, asked that he never reveal how they were made.

Which means he share pictures of them, and certainly not with the media. Which is understandable, I think, however strange it might appear to be. Here's how Harrison explained it:

Thank you for your review of Revelation. I am happy to hear that you have taken such an interest in the custom device that I use as an integral part of performing the work.

As your friend Ron Wiltrout noted in his separate posting, I am usually extremely forthcoming about the nature of my work and even the specifications of my tuning system. However, the original form of the device that I use was invented by my mentor La Monte Young, and upon entrusting me to use it, he specifically requested that I keep the technique absolutely confidential.

So I hope that you will understand that under the circumstances I will not be able to email you a photo. Nonetheless I greatly appreciate your support and enthusiasm about the work. With all best regards, Michael

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