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For 50 years, Lou Harrison has been in the vanguard of American composers. He is an innovator, and his work uses musical styles from around the world.

Born in Portland, Oregon, on May 14, 1917, Lou Harrison grew up in the San Francisco Bay Area. There, he was influenced by Cantonese opera, Gregorian chants, and the music of California's Spanish and Mexican cultures. Through early recordings, Harrison also developed an interest in gamelan music (a style of music from Indonesia and Malaysia that is performed by an orchestra of gongs, chimes, drums, and xylophone-like instruments made from metal) and by building the instruments himself, and learning to play them. His early compositions included a large body of percussion music combining Western, Asian, African, and Latin American rhythmic influences with his homemade instruments.

Harrison's California roots have intensified his involvement in a synthesis of the musical cultures bordering on the Pacific, reflected in such works as Pacifica Rondo and La Koro Sutro for chorus and gamelan. He has, over the decades, maintained an interest in dance, theater, and the craft of instrument building.