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RAGAS & POLYPHONY: New works for multi-track Indian vocals, just intonation piano and tabla by Michael Harrison

New works by Michael Harrison for CD with Mashkoor Ali Khan (Indian vocals), Anindo Chatterjee (tabla) and Harrison (just intonation piano)

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New version of an old Tarana features my collaboration with Ustad Mashkoor Ali Khan

Posted on November 16, 2016 by Michael Harrison

Tarana features Mashkoor Ali Khan singing one of his rare and old traditional taranas in raga Yaman Kalyan. He and guest vocalist Daisy Press also sing composed taans, harmony parts and countermelodies, with tabla played by Anindo Chatterjee’s disciple Meghashyam Keshav, just intonation piano and tanpura played by me, and Western production techniques by Chris Botta. Although Indian classical music usually includes a lot of improvisation, this work is completely notated; yet the tightly structured 6-minute work allows for the music to come alive. Because Ustad is a master of a centuries old aural tradition, he has never needed to read music. Therefore we developed most of his parts based on things that he already knew, with countermelodies and harmony parts that he learned by ear.

To provide a little background for my work on this project, since 1978 I have studied and practiced singing Indian ragas on an almost daily basis, first as a disciple of the late Pandit Pran Nath, and his two foremost Western disciples, composers La Monte Young and Terry Riley, and since 1999 as a disciple of Mashkoor Ali Khan. When I was first getting started, La Monte encouraged me to study and practice the music in its pure form rather than creating hybrids. Whether consciously or not, I took his advice to the extreme. As a result, although practicing Indian music has profoundly influenced my life and work from the beginning, it has only been the past five years that I have directly used materials from the genre in my original works. La Monte’s advice enabled me to dive much deeper into the music; and decades later, with relatively equal training and background in both Western and Indian classical music, it comes naturally for me to merge elements from these diverse traditions. As a result over the past few years I have shifted my riyaz (daily practice) from singing with the tanpura, to singing and playing ragas on the just intonation piano. It is incredibly rewarding to start each day exploring the merging of the two musical traditions that I love best. Now I am more excited than ever about the possibilities, and it is the fulfillment of a lifelong dream to collaborate with my Ustad!


Composer/pianist Michael Harrison has been a serious practitioner of North Indian classical music since 1979 and a disciple of the great Indian vocalist Mashkoor Ali Khan since 1999. This project will be the first of its kind by commissioning Harrison to compose new works for a CD and performances with Mashkoor Ali Khan, Anindo Chatterjee (tabla), and Harrison (piano and tanpura). The works will be composed using the basic structures and materials of Indian classical music including ragas (melodic archetypes), talas (rhythmic cycles), alap (non-rhythmic introduction and development), bandish (traditional vocal compositions), gamaks (melodic embellishments), taans (virtuosic riffs), and highly stylized structured improvisation. However, by adding pre-composed elements of multi-track Indian vocals and just intonation piano, the Western hallmarks of harmony and polyphony will also become integral elements of the music.

Harrison, Khan, and Chatterjee will give numerous performances before recording a CD featuring the commissioned works with Grammy-winning classical producer Adam Abeshouse. The American Academy of Indian Classical Music is sponsoring the recording and will cover all expenses associated with the production of the album.

Project Media

Jaunpuri (Rendition of a Raga)

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Jaunpuri (Rendition of a Raga) (2015) is a composition by Michael Harrison based on a traditional Indian raga and rare old vocal composition. The work is recorded by Mashkoor Ali Khan (Indian vocals), Kimball Gallagher (piano), Anirban Chowdhury (tabla), and Aaron Shraage (tanpura). Jaunpuri combines Western compositional structures and harmony with materials of Indian classical music including raga (melody), tala (rhythmic cycles), alap (intro), bandish (fixed composition), gamaks (embellishments), taans (riffs) and structured improvisation.

Just Constellations
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Features: Michael Harrison

Just Constellations, composed by Michael Harrison, was commissioned by Roomful of Teeth and premiered at MASS MoCA in August 2015. This work is included as an example of layering voices in just intonation and to provide a premonition into the sound world that Harrison will explore by multi-tracking Indian vocals with Mashkoor Ali Khan.
The New York Times wrote “Michael Harrison’s ‘Just Constellations’… proved particularly arresting, a celestial soundscape of gorgeous harmonies… the notes rang out like a jubilantly microtonal choir of bells.”

Just Ancient Loops, III. Ascension
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“Ascension” is the third and final movement of “Just Ancient Loops,” Harrison’s collaboration with filmmaker Bill Morrison and cellist Maya Beiser. The work is a 25-minute musical odyssey for an orchestra of cellos, with each cello part recorded separately by Beiser in the studio. This work is included as an example of Harrison’s more rhythmic and polyphonic work layering and multi-tracking a single instrument.

Harrison & Beiser’s “Time Loops” CD featuring “Just Ancient Loops” was selected for NPR’s “Top 10 Classical Albums of 2012.”

Start and End Dates



New York, New York

1 update
Last update on November 16, 2016

Project Created By

Yonkers, New York
Michael Harrison Composer/pianist Michael Harrison is a protégé of La Monte Young and Terry Riley, and has been called “an American Maverick” by Philip Glass. The New York Times wrote of his recent collaboration with Grammy-winning vocal project Roomful of Teeth, “Harrison’s ‘Just Constellations’… proved particularly arresting, a celestial soundscape of gorgeous harmonies… the notes…

In Collaboration With

Indian classical vocalist
Kolkata, INDIA
Co-sponsor and funding for recording expenses, musician and producer fees
New York, New York
Tabla virtuoso
Brooklyn, New York
Producer and engineer
Pelham, New York


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