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An Ephemeral Silence

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Kevin Macneil Brown remembers Lou Harrison.

An Ephemeral Silence

The news that Lou Harrison had died left a silence inside me. One of the world’s greatest composers, Harrison leaves a legacy of music that, while remaining almost impossibly beautiful sonically, certainly challenges attitudes and pre-conceptions about music and sound. His explorations - of tuning systems, of Korean classical music, of Baroque counterpoint, of Indonesian Gamelan, and more - spread out from his beneficent presence like an ocean tide, making waves that are still hitting the inner shores of open minded listeners and composers all over the world. To stretch a metaphor, it was the oceanic oneness of all human culture that was so clearly expressed in his work. Listening to Harrison can be an experience that, while feeding the curious mind and ear, simultaneously satisfies the yearning heart, the learning soul. Melody was the absolute heart of his music; the singing, human arc and flow of it.

Lou Harrison was an explorer in the best, most valuable sense: he went to places where no-one had ever been before, brought back what he found and, through his music and teaching, shared those discoveries with us all. Along with his life-partner, the instrument builder William Colvig, he, to put it in the simplest way, enriched the world.

Silence, of course, is relative, temporary; perhaps an illusion, even. But in the new silence left by Lou Harrison’s passing, new sounds will spring forth; melodies and textures that will owe part of their resonance to this great American composer and explorer.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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