• Pablo Ziffer

The Harry Partch Instrumentarium



Harry Partch (1901-1974) was an iconoclastic American composer and instrument inventor with a passion for integrating musicians, actors, and dancers in large-scale works of total-theater. He was "seduced into carpentry" by his interest in just intonation and his need to have an orchestra tuned to this system. The instruments are more than just producers of tone, however — each one has an evocative name and dramatic physical presence, and each one puts unique physical demands on the performer. In Partch's book, Genesis of a Music, he writes that the performer of the Marimba Eroica should at times "convey the vision of Ben Hur in his chariot," while a musician playing his Kithara must not "bend at the waist, like an amateur California prune picker," but instead should move with grace and athleticism in a "functional dance." Charles Corey, curator of the instruments which are currently housed at the University of Washington in Seattle, gives a tour of the instruments and the unique sounds they make and iconoclastic musical notations which Partch invented for the performers to be able to play his compositions. This event was presented on May 30, 2017, by the Pacific Northwest Section of the Audio Engineering Society in the Studio Theater at the Meany Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Washington in Seattle. Sincere thanks to their staffs and management for allowing us to be there.

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