Happy birthday to my favorite American composer, Harry Partch

Harry Partch is the very embodiment of the independent spirit. A man whose dissatisfaction with the traditional European musical 12 tone structure, led to a study of the Ancient Greek practice of “just intonation”, a tuning system in which, according to wiki, “frequencies of notes are related by ratios of small whole numbers”, with the notes in any interval being part of the same harmonic series. It’s a system that remained in wide use in the non-Western world, which given Partch’s proclivities towards the sounds of the Far East and Africa, makes perfect sense.

Not content to remain a slave to past traditions, Partch used the idea of just intonation to develop a 43 tone to the octave, microtonal scale, which he then designed and built numerous instruments with which to play it. With the benefit of a trust set up by friends and patrons, Partch was able to start his own record label, Gate 5, allowing his recordings to be purchased via mail order, starting in 1953 (Proto-DIY style!).

Given the peculiar tuning and the need for specially crafted instruments, Partch’s works were performed irregularly at best. Having spent many years of his life spent as a transient, which earned him the “America’s hobo composer” sobriquet, Partch was thankfully used to living lean, and was not so beholden to financial interest that he compromise his recordings/performances for more traditional, and therefore more commercial, avenues.

For more info on Partch’s musical theory, recordings and personal history, check here http://www.microtonal-synthesis.com/vitality.html and here for a catalog of his instruments http://www.microtonal-synthesis.com/instruments.html

Watching Partch performances is every bit as exciting as listening to them. Now prepare for an onslaught of every Partch clip that I could find.

Let’s start with this great, short news piece, showing Partch at work with a student orchestra

This is an amazing, complete, performance of Delusion of The Fury, looking not unlike a Modern Dance, Kabuki Opera

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