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Terry Riley: The Harp of New Albion

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Audio CD, January 23, 1992
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Editorial Reviews

The Harp of New Albion is a transfixing solo piano recording, conceived and performed by world-renowned minimalist composer, the ever-innovative Terry Riley. His inspiration for this work came from a legendary harp, left behind in the New World in 1579, on the shores of Nova Albion, which is now called San Francisco Bay. A Native American medicine man is said to have found the harp and placed it on a cliff where the westerly winds played upon it and temperature and humidity changes created an ever-shifting set of tonalities. Riley bases the ten movements of The Harp of New Albion on the concept of tonalities. The liner notes explain the complicated ratios Riley devised for tuning his octaves. He says, "The idea of piano as harp influences my method of playing, as does the tuning from which the particular consonances and dissonances determine the emerging energies that flow through both instrument and performer." Although Riley improvises throughout The Harp of New Albion, each movement is defined by structural or composed elements. Astonishingly, the halo of harmonics drifting above his solo piano creates an orchestral sound, complete with horns, reeds, strings and voices. At times, the melodic interplay is ethereal, the micro-tonal relationships within the standing waves of sounds creating a haunting spectrum. Special note should be taken of the majestic Bosendorfer Imperial grand piano, especially tuned for Riley to play in the acoustically-fabulous Academy of Music in Munich, Germany. The entire recording was accomplished during one incredible night of inspired piano performance.

Disc: 1
1. The Harp Of New Albion: The New Albion Chorale-The Discovery
2. The Harp Of New Albion: The Orchestra Of Tao
3. The Harp Of New Albion: Riding The Westerleys
Disc: 2
1. The Harp Of New Albion: Cadence On The Wind
2. The Harp Of New Albion: Premonition Rag
3. The Harp Of New Albion: Return Of The Ancestors
4. The Harp Of New Albion: Ascending Whale Dreams
5. The Harp Of New Albion: The Magic Knot Waltz
6. The Harp Of New Albion: Circle Of Wolves
7. The Harp Of New Albion: Land's End

Product Details

  • Performer: Terry Riley
  • Composer: Terry Riley
  • Audio CD (January 23, 1992)
  • Number of Discs: 2
  • Label: Celestial Harmonies
  • ASIN: B0000007ZH
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #223,774 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

17 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Sor_Fingers on October 25, 2006
Format: Audio CD
This was the most amazing recording I may have ever heard. I've loved everything I've heard by Terry Riley and "The Harp of New Albion" is no exception. The tuning system he uses called just intonation really creates a different kind of music unlike anything I've ever heard before. The mircotonal relationships create unique sonorities and the piece has a profound effect on the listener. I didn't know what to expect when I listenened to this, and I was thinking that I might be convulsing in terror from dissonance. It was actually quite the opposite. Rarely was the piece ever uncomfortablly dissonant. In spite of the microtonal tuning system, the music was actually quite consonant and fairly pleasing and relaxing, and yet it was obvious that I was hearing relationships between notes that I've never heard before. I know the sound of a tuning system outside of the traditional "equal temprament" system that has been used throughout the history of western music may sound horrific by mere explanation. But hearing this piece was an incredibly enjoyable experience. The only criticism that I have of the piece is that it is fairly long due to Riley's extensive improvisiation. Running at about 110 minutes, it can start to sound a little overwhelming for that long. The modal sounds can start to sound a little repetitive but it is nevertheless a very incredible listening experience. The future of classical music lies here. Though it took many years for classical music to expand from tonality to atonality, I think it's only a matter of time before microtonality takes a prominent stand and possibly will take over.
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Format: Audio CD
"Nothing to do with the harp" (other than the title)? Not so simple. The work is, indeed, a long (almost two hours) quasi-improvisation for solo piano, inspired by- and an hommage to the harp supposedly left on unexplored American soil (Nova Albion, today's Canadian West coast) by a member from the crew of Sir Francis Drake, half-way through his circumnavigation of the globe at the end of the 16th Century, that a medicine man found, declared sacred and placed on a cliff towering above the ocean to let the winds and climate play with it and alter its tonalities.

After others and especially his [not teacher, as I first wrote, see the comments section, but] long-time friend and mentor LaMonte Young (LaMonte Young: The Well-Tuned Piano 81 X 25, 6:17:50 - 11:18:59 PM NYC), Riley used a special tuning system, which he calls "just intonation". As some will know (and, not being a musicologist, I hope not to be to wide off the mark with my attempt at an explanation) the "equal temperament" tuning system used in the West since Bach at least, in order to ensure that every octave will be equivalent (and therefore allow to play in different keys on one keyboard), cheats by a few acoustical "commas" (the unit of pitch difference) on the lower intervals, making each of them accoustically (if not subjectively) out-of-tune, e.g. not in mathematical proportion to each other.

So, how does it sound? First - (slightly) out of tune. It may be that more than 400 hundred centuries of equal temperament have corrupted our (my?
Read more ›
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By James Jones on October 2, 2004
Format: Audio CD
This double CD is based on a legend of a harp left behind by Sir Francis Drake in what is now California; the harp was supposedly placed atop an altar on a cliff at the ocean's edge, where the wind playing over its strings created an ever-shifting kaleidoscope of sounds as the changing weather affected its tuning.

Using a tuning other than the equal temperament that Western music has used for several centuries now guarantees unusual results, but it takes a composer and performer such as Riley to create beauty such as on this CD. You'll hear some traditional musical forms here (waltz and even ragtime!), but from a new point of view. It's easy to get lost in this music, but pay attention. It's worth it.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By 410 on May 22, 2012
Format: Audio CD
Terry Riley has a number of more well known albums, but this one stands the test of time well and deserves to be better known. A work inspired by La Monte Young's Well Tempered Piano, Riley improvises repetitive and circularly evolving phrases on a piano tuned by just intonation. Without going into the physics of such alternate tunings, one hears new tones and harmonies on the piano that remain highly listenable. Compared to 'new age' players whose work hasn't aged so well, Riley keeps the parts moving at a propulsive pace and avoids saccharine melodies. A bit more dynamic than La Monte Young's famous piece. Some listeners complain that not enough is going on this sort of music. I would suggest that this is not of a structure of Beethoven's late sonatas or Bach's counterpoint, but something perhaps better appreciated more as a soundscape.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Norrin Radd on April 27, 2009
Format: Audio CD Verified Purchase
This surprising collection of piano works by minimalist Terry Riley has a lot of unique reverberating harmonics. Riley plays with a 'Well-Tuned Piano' like La Monte Young did before, but Riley does it better. We are used to Terry Riley playing his synthesizers and organs and this is - I think - his first piano recording. And he does not disappoint! Riley's well-knowned virtuosity as a keyboardist truly shines on the piano. And these pieces are very colorful, richly intriguing, and smooth to the ear. 'The idea of piano as harp influences my method of playing, as does the tuning from which the particular consonances and dissonances determine the emerging energies that flow through both the instrument and performer.' Terry Riley, from the booklet.
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