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    Harry Partch – The Harry Partch Collection Volume 1

    Harry Partch (1901-1974) merely succeeded in realizing the most perfectly constructed, personal musical universe of the 20th Century. Shunning twelve-tone equal temperament—which has dominated Western music for well over a hundred 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 or classical concerts.

    The Harry Partch Collection is a set of four individual CDs that were originally released by CRI in the mid-1990s and reissued by New World Records in 2004. Volume 1 features three works that document a time period in the 1950s when Partch was moving away from his early speech-music phase to a more percussive-based sound. Dating from 1949-50, the Eleven Intrusions are a collection of very quiet, sparse works for instruments and intoning voice. Along with “U.S. Highball,” they are my favorite Partch music with vocals. The first Intrusion, “Study on Olympos’ Pentatonic,” employs the Harmonic Canon and Bass Marimba to usher forth a microtonal yet oriental feel. “Study on Archytas’ Enharmonic” is similar, but more subdued and somber. Both pieces are atypically simple for a Partch composition. “The Rose” and “The Crane” offer up some odd microtonal glissandos via the Adapted Guitar II as the Diamond Marimba makes an appearance and Harry intones some really forlorn poetry.

    “The Waterfall” produces a slightly more upbeat mood, while “The Wind” brings it back down with a dissonant outburst: “I am the lonely wind of night. I am the spent sea’s bitter foam. I am drifted about as on the sea. I am carried by the wind as if I had nowhere to go.” True to its name, “The Street” describes somber street scenes: “Down Maxwell Street where the prostitutes stand in the gloom.” “Lover,” “Soldiers–War–Another War” and “Vanity” bust out with some fancy Diamond Marimba and Adapted Guitar slide work, and introduce the Cloud Chamber Bowls, which get another lively workout to produce an otherworldly percussion effect on “Cloud Chamber Music.” Finally, the The Adapted Viola, Adapted Guitar and Diamond Marimba end the cycle with a woozy lament. When listened to as a whole, the Eleven Intrusions easily contain some of the most melancholy music ever committed to tape. They were originally released on a set of five 78 rpm records that are so rare, I’ve seen ’em appear on eBay only once in the past 10 years. (They sold for the tidy sum of $1,500.)

    Hailing from 1952, Plectra and Percussion Dances is a lengthy, near hour-long work in three parts. “Castor and Pollux” opens up this can of worms with Harry’s first-ever instrumental piece. “Castor” displays a complex dissonance, while “Pollux” is much more catchy and propulsive. “Ring Around the Moon” is “a satire on the world of singers and singing, music and dance; on concerts and concert audiences.” Brandishing a pastiche of funny, nonsense phrases all strung together, it’s pretty wacky and all over the place. With its difficult, meandering atmosphere, “Even Wild Horses” is very tough to get into. This piece can challenge even the most hardened Harry Partch fanatic, which is a perfect way to end Plectra and Percussion Dances. This work was originally issued as a trust fund edition in the early 1950s and got reissued several times with different artwork in subsequent years on Harry’s own Gate 5 label. 1955’s “Ulysses at the Edge” closes up the this CD by combining regular instruments like sax with Partch’s, which is really unusual and funny to hear. The Boo and Diamond Marimba really get a workout on this track.

    Label: New World Records Catalog Number: 80621-2 Format: CD Packaging: Jewel case Tracks: 26 Total Time: 74:05 Country: United States Released: 2004 More: American Mavericks, Harry Partch Information Center, Innova, Last.FM, Newband, Official, Wikipedia, Yale, YouTube

    Text ©2010 Arcane Candy

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