I feel obligated to write about Harry Partch (I think of him as ‘Uncle Harry’).

His picture hangs over my workbench. (The only other image of a musician present in my studio is a plastic bust of Debussy that sits on the amplifier in the control room -to remind me "there is no theory, you have merely to listen".)

He is a forefather of everyone like me who took to building different instruments in the pursuit of making different music, going to the sources of the sounds rather than the disposition of them. The humility implicit in this, emphasizing the objective bases of music rather than the subjective ones, is something I think all musicians would be well served to think about. His very real and tangible contribution to music generally is more valuable to me than the largely escapist innovations of Cage (which Partch considered "precious and vapid") and Stockhausen.

I have been greatly stimulated by his writings and the example he set as america’s greatest (in my opinion) musical outsider, particularly his invocation of the corporeal aspects of music as opposed to the abstract. I can’t be certain I would ever have built the instruments of Anarchestra without the example of his accomplishment. 

I find myself wishing he'd written less often for voices as they tend to distract from the unique sonorities of his instruments (generally speaking, I dislike composed vocal music -what we called "wiggly singing" in kindergarden- as the voice is the freest and most personal of all the sonic vehicles at our disposal and to dissociate a voice from its own mind and subject it to the control of another seems inherently, if unintentionally, fascistic).  His objective of deriving rhythm from speech was a laudable one.  Like Wagner, he considered himself a dramatist which (to my mind) undermines the most interesting aspect of his work. 

My favorite pieces of his are Exordium and Sanctus (both instrumental) from Delusion of the Fury, which is the best recording of his music I have heard. The flexibility of his sonorities and the depth of his sense of tonality (43 tones to the octave) open our ears to a wider universe of sonic possibilities.

If you aren’t familiar with his work (sadly, many are not), check out the Corporeal Website and also the American Mavericks website which has virtual versions of his instruments you can play.

NEWBAND is the custodian of his instruments and have been recording new versions of his work. During his lifetime, Partch struggled mightily against indifference, neglect, and extremely adverse circumstances to get his work rehearsed, performed, and recorded.




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