Wednesday, 1 March 2017

Harry Partch - The World of Harry Partch (1969)

Something truly unique today.  Californian composer, theorist and musician Harry Partch (1901-1974) not only rejected Western tonal music, but inspired by just intonation (which he considered to be the true and suppressed form in which music was organised since antiquity) he devised a 43-tone scale and an arsenal of bespoke instruments to perform his works.  This was his first major-label release - the original liner notes are worth reading in full to gain more of an insight into Partch's musical worldview, and can be found here.

Three wonderful, life-affirming examples of Partch's music are featured here.  The 17-minute Daphne Of The Dunes, originally the soundtrack to a short film called Windsong (1958), moves through multiple short segments.  Some are highly percussive and gamelan-esque, and others focus on the shimmering, resonating multiple strings of his bespoke zithers, or 'kitharas'.

Partch also believed that music, dance and theatre shouldn't be distinct specialties, and the second track here creates a Beat-era dramatic narrative in 9 minutes.  This piece, its full title Barstow: Eight Hitchhiker Inscriptions from a Highway Railing at Barstow, California, introduces each scene with a little marimba melody before each fascinating slice of life is recited and then sung.  Finally, Castor & Pollux is an absorbing 16 minutes of bell-chime melodies and various kithara and marimba workouts, and more of a rhythmic drive overall reflecting its purpose as a theatre/dance piece.  Highly recommended.

I'm going home to Boston, Massachusetts - it's 4pm and I'm hungry and broke, I wish I was dead, but today I am a man.
alt. link (zippy)


  1. As much as I love Tom Waits, I wonder if he'd be considered quite as unique and groundbreaking if more people were aware of Harry Partch. (I must confess, I only became aware of him via Tom Waits' namechecks). There's a rather decent BBC documentary about Partch on YouTube -

    1. nice one, I'll need to give that a watch.

  2. As iconic as it gets. A singular voice of what used to be called America. This was my introduction to Harry. Not many in his league, Don Van Vliet perhaps.

  3. This is the greatest experience in music since.....? I always thought that american composeres are a little boring. He isn't.