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    Partch at the REDCAT 2009

    Partch at the REDCAT 2009

    Los Angeles, California
    May 29, 2009

    Harry Partch (1901-1974) merely succeeded in realizing the most perfectly constructed, personal musical universe of the 20th Century. Shunning 12-tone equal temperament—which has dominated Western music for well over 100 years—he formed his own 43 tone scale realized through an antiquated pure tuning system known as Just Intonation. Harry then built his own strange, sculptural instruments to realize his exotic scores. Over several decades, he meshed this otherworldly-sounding music with dance and drama into what he called “corporeal” presentations, in which these three elements are fully integrated into a powerful, transporting whole. None of them were omitted or relegated to the background, as in traditional stage plays, classical concerts, etc.

    Partch at the REDCAT 2009

    Near the end of May 2009, the Partch ensemble, who formed in 1991 to play the music of Harry Partch, played their sixth annual show at the REDCAT. It was divided into two sections, Dark and Light, with an intermission. Dark appropriately featured the Eleven Intrusions from 1950, a set of 11 short, very somber and forlorn pieces—most featuring intoning voice accompanied by only two or three instruments—punctuated by one weird and wild work for four accapella voices. Next up was Harry’s 1958 film Windsong, an 18-minute black and white meditation on the Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo set in the desolate sand dunes of Lake Michigan.

    Partch at the REDCAT 2009

    After the rather muted audio of Windsong, it was a bit shocking to hear the full frequency range of the live Partch instruments again as part two, Light, got underway after the intermission. True to its name, this half of the show featured some lighter fare, such as Yankee Doodle Fantasy, a parody on patriotism, James Joyce, club women and even Harry’s own 43 tones to the octave scale. Other songs in this vein included O Frabjous Day!, with text by Lewis Carroll, and Isobel and Annah the Allmaziful, featuring an excerpt of text from James Joyce’s lengthy and dense Finnegan’s Wake.

    Partch at the REDCAT 2009

    All of the above pieces were sprinkled with a generous amount of dimly-lit hues that recalled part one, including lone wolf gems like Dark Brother, The Letter, and Barstow: Eight Hitchhikers Inscriptions From a Highway Railing, which set to music a selection of sometimes funny, sometimes sad Great Depression-era graffiti in which a ragtag crew of guys and dolls advertise for a mate. Overall, compared to the more upbeat pieces of previous years, Dark / Light was largely a more subdued beast. But, that’s fine by me. I love to experience the full spectrum of emotional performance, and, as always, the Partch ensemble nailed it. Look for a full gallery from this concert coming later. Until then, view more Harry Partch articles and photos here at Arcane Candy.

    Partch at the REDCAT 2009

    Text and photos ©2009 Arcane Candy.

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