That Harry Partch is no ordinary person is obvious. If his accomplishments in music had been slight, perhaps it could all end here -- but on the contrary, his accomplishments have been considerable. Anyone who has sat in a room, surrounded by Partch's many instruments, and listened to his music -- this complete and, to many, alien world of sound and drama -- knows what an intimidating experience this can be. The very thought of adopting a philosophical position diametrically opposed to a well-entrenched existing tradition, building a theory of tonal relationships and the instruments to realize this theory, composing the music, staging the drama, rehearsing and bringing it all to performance, recording the result -- all in the face of an uncomprehending public -- and then having the perseverance (perhaps obstinacy would be a better word) to continue all this for the better part of a lifetime, is a staggering thing to contemplate. Perhaps it is not so staggering if you consider Harry Partch's ideas about music. Partch and his music are very close to being one and the same thing.
~ Arthur Woodbury: "Harry Partch: Corporeality and Monophony” Source, Vol. 1, No. 2 (1968)
The quote above was one of the first items I included in the inaugural Corporeal Meadows, all the way back in 1996. Those words have never left my mind. I have no idea the number of people who read this post who have known the feeling: to be surrounded by Partch’s many instruments. It is an extraordinary feeling, a realization of the enormity of imagination he had, the sheer will to move forward, no matter what. As I’ve become more familiar with Partch’s life prior to when I knew him, I am painfully aware that his determination - his fate, if you will - came at a great cost and often made life almost unbearable.
I remind myself of this regularly. I am writing this post, letting it flow out into the *verse, so that other people might think about it. I do it because I am aware that there are others who do not think about the path this man took, who do not realize that it is more than funny pitches and otherworldly instruments. No, as Mr. Woodbury so aptly puts it: Partch and his creative output are virtually one and the same thing. Which means, of course, that you Do Not Fuck Around With It. You take the man, the person, as he is and as his music was struck to page. You heed his enjoinders on performance, you take him straight with no chaser, you play your part in the drama of this world in real time and with full commitment. Being involved with Partch and his music is a bona fide example of “all in” - if you don’t represent fully physically, you’ve blown the part just as if you’ve missed notes. What does that mean to the observer, the listener, the watcher?
Accept no substitutes. Be satisfied with only performances that go beyond, where musicians escape from “tight coats and tight shoes”. Know that Harry Partch, the man at the center, knew his instruments like no one else. Look for ancient magic.
It is a staggering thing to contemplate.