noisenarcheology: Harry Partch

Have you got your dancing shoes on?  Well, take them off and have a seat because this isn’t that kind of music.  If you happen to own a monocle or a pair of opera glasses, then you might want to dig them out and dust them off.

Ron Silliman is Philadelphia’s resident L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E poet [Update: see comment thread] Chester County’s resident language poet, and his highly-trafficked blog is just one of the many delicious things that Google Reader feeds me.  In a recent post, Silliman, without comment, links to a few segments of a documentary on Harry Partch (1901-1974).  Turns out Partch was a pretty important figure in 20th century music.  He invented a 43-tone scale (a “microtonal” scale with 43 pitches in each octave) and custom-built a bunch of weird instruments that used it.

As you can probably guess, Partch’s music isn’t much in the way of top 40 material, but in 1971, Columbia Records released the operatic Delusions of the Fury, from which the following track is taken.

Harry Partch, “Arrest, Trial And Judgment (Joy In The Marketplace!)”

If you think that Sun Ra, Philip Glass, and Euripides all smashed together sounds like a good thing and not some kind of parade of abominations, then you should really check out the whole album.

Bonus! Back in November, Beck recorded a tribute to Harry Partch.  Stereogum said:

…it sounds like a demented mashup revue of the last century’s popular, classical, and avant garde music forms, with a little outer space thrown in for good measure…

which sounds to me like “free beer.”  I’m so there.

Beck, “Harry Partch”

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6 Responses to noisenarcheology: Harry Partch

  1. Ron Silliman says:

    Well I don’t live in Philadelphia, but in Chester County. Bob Perelman lives in Philadelphia in that little historic neighborhood east of Rittenhouse Square, so he’s the resident langpo, strictly speaking. And nobody uses those equal signs (happily) unless referring to the journal.

    But my nephew had a piece on the role of weirdness in American music and it brought Partch to mind. I only got to see him perform live once, tho I did see his company in what became a memorial concert that took place right after he died (but had been scheduled before with the idea that he would be there and conducting). I think of Partch as a Simon Rodia for the ears.

    • Ah, I apologize! My background in poetics is only slightly more profound than a wikipedia entry. It’s a real honor you dropped by, and thanks for the recommendations. And I agree with you about Avatar. It will be unwatchable within 10 years.

  2. David G says:

    More avante-pop fun with Harry Partch. Last year, Radiohead recorded a song about Harry Patch, who was until his recent death the last soldier alive to have fought in the trenches of World War I. The Fiery Furnaces lead singer, not noticing the missing “r,” called Radiohead “bogus”:

    Fuck you! You brand yourself by brazenly and arbitrarily associating yourself with things that you know people consider cool. That is bogus. That’s a put-on. That’s a branding technique and Radiohead have their brand that they’re popular and intelligent. So they have a song about Harry Patch.”

    He later said, unconvincingly, that it was all a joke.

    I dig the Partch, but that Beck song, bizarrely, is the tough one to listen to.

  3. materiallives says:

    “not much in the way of top 40 material” might be the Noise Narcs/world-at-large understatement of the year. this is bizarro, which is entertaining. can’t say i’d listen to the full record.

  4. stv ptrmir says:

    Another good thing to check out is “Weird Nightmare – Meditations on Mingus” a tribute compilation of Charles Mingus’ music put together by Hal Willner. Many of the recordings use Partch’s instruments, so you get a double bonus of hearing takes of Mingus’ music with sounds that can only come from Partch’s instruments. The liner notes have interesting information about Partch. Partch also wrote two books that you may be able to find at your local library “Bitter Music” and “Genesis of a Music.” The first is an easier read detailing some Partch’s experiences hiking along the Pacific Coast in northern California and other experiences. The second details Partch’s music theories, but it is a more difficult read, and I’m still working my way through it, off and on.

    • Thanks for the recommendation! I’m pretty sure I came across “Weird Nightmare” a few years ago but I must not have given it enough attention. I’ll have to go back and check it out for real.

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