Witches, Myths, and Microtones: The Music of Harry Partch

by Maggie Molloy

Over the past five years Harry Partch’s orchestra of handmade instruments has become a staple in the Seattle spring concert calendar—among experimental music lovers, at least.

Partch was one of the first 20th century composers to work extensively with microtonal scales, creating dozens of incredible instruments specifically for the performance of his works. Those instruments have been in residence at the University of Washington since 2014, where, under the direction of Charles Corey, students and community members practice and perform on them each spring.

The Chromelodeon
The Gourd Tree
The Bamboo Marimba II
Charles Corey, Director of the Harry Partch Instrumentarium
The Diamond Marimba
The Surrogate Kithara
The Spoils of War
The Chromelodeon

This year, Corey and his crew of Partch enthusiasts are playing two of Partch’s most ambitious and rarely-performed works: Daphne of the Dunes and The Bewitched. Catch both in concert this week at Meany Hall:

Daphne of the Dunes
The ancient Greek myth of Daphne and Apollo is reimagined through the primal rhythms and eerie microtones of Partch’s handmade instruments. His sprawling Daphne of the Dunes (originally composed as a film score) is performed alongside microtonal art songs of the 20th and 21st centuries.
Tues, 4/9, 7:30pm, Meany Studio Theater | $10

The Bewitched
Music, theatre, and ritual merge in Partch’s radical dance satire The Bewitched. Written as a reaction against the rigidity of modern civilization, the piece explores how we might ultimately find a sense of rebirth through a discovering our ancient past. The Bewitched showcases Partch’s most ambitious writing for the female voice, the piece unfolding across 12 scenes with the instruments dominating the set.
Sat, 4/13, 7:30pm, Meany Studio Theater | $10

Interested in learning more? Click here for our photo tour of the Harry Partch Instrumentarium.

Second Inversion Spooktacular: 48-hour Spooky Music Marathon

by Maggie Molloy

Nothing sets the scene for your Halloween quite like a marathon of spooky music! Let us provide the soundtrack for your Halloween haunts. On October 30 and 31, tune in to Second Inversion for a 48-hour marathon of new and experimental music inspired by monsters, witches, ghosts, goblins, and things that go bump in the night.

Click here to tune into the scream—er, stream of Halloween music from anywhere in the world, or tune in on the go using our free mobile app. To give you a sneak peek of the spooky music that’s in store, our Second Inversion hosts share a favorite selection from their Halloween playlists:

Harry Partch: Delusion of the Fury (Innova Recordings)

Likely written as an attempt to reconcile his own anger, Harry Partch’s stage play Delusion of the Fury is (superficially, at least) well-suited to Halloween. Containing killing, a ghost, body horror, futility, and absurdism, this piece not only touches on the more classic campy elements of spookiness, but is oriented around some of the darker elements of horror—existentialism, futility, and powerlessness to name a few. Plus, for my money, few musical things conjure the uneasy feelings associated with horror and dread like microtonal scales. – Seth Tompkins


Arnold Schoenberg: Pierrot Lunaire (Hungaroton Records)
Erika Sziklay, soprano; 
András Mihály, conductor; Budapest Chamber Ensemble

It just wouldn’t be a Halloween marathon without a spooky clown—and Arnold Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire is nothing if not haunting. A masterpiece of melodrama, the 35-minute work tells the chilling tale of a moonstruck clown and his descent into madness (a powerful metaphor for the modern alienated artist). The spooky story comes alive through three groups of seven poems (a result of Schoenberg’s peculiar obsession with numerology), each one recited using Sprechstimme: an expressionist vocal technique that hovers eerily between song and speech. Combine this with Schoenberg’s free atonality and macabre storytelling, and it’s enough to transport you to into an intoxicating moonlight. – Maggie Molloy


Adrian Lane: “Playing with Ghosts” (Preserved Sound)

The “ghosts” in the title refer to the 100-year-old cylinder recordings that Adrian Lane hacked to bits, reordered, sutured together, and reanimated as “Playing With Ghosts.”  The result is a grainy musical creature accompanied by Lane’s own ethereal piano, which was built around the same time the cylinders were originally produced. The deterioration of the recordings leave a haunting, nostalgic impression. – Rachele Hales

 


Michael Daugherty: Dead Elvis (CCn’C Records)
Martin Kuuskmann, bassoon; Absolute Ensemble

Have you ever wondered why people are obsessed with celebrities?  How some folks can see faces in toast?  Then you must be mystified by the phenomenon of Elvis Presley’s inimitable immortality.

Program notes from the premiere of Michael Daugherty’s Dead Elvis say that “It is more than a coincidence that it is scored for the same instrumentation as Stravinsky’s Histoire du Soldat (1918), in which a soldier sells his violin and his soul to the devil for a magic book. In Dead Elvis, the bassoon is Elvis (or perhaps an Elvis impersonator). Does this rock star sell out his Southern folk authenticity to the sophisticated professionalism of Hollywood movies, Colonel Parker, and Las Vegas in order to attain great wealth and fame?”

Daugherty’s over-the-top tribute to Elvis juxtaposed with Dies Irae (a religious chant which symbolizes Judgment Day) incites questions about the obsessiveness over celebrity and the immortality of image. – Micaela Pearson


Julia Wolfe: Cruel Sister (Cantaloupe Music)
Ensemble Resonanz

Cruel Sister by Julia Wolfe is a musical rendering of an eponymous Old English ballad. The ballad tells the tale of two sisters—one magnificently bright as the sun, the other cold and dark. One day a man comes courting and the dark sister becomes infatuated with him. Jealous and covetous, she pushes her bright sister into the sea. Two minstrels find the dead sister washed up on the shore and shape her breastbone into a macabre harp, strung with her yellow hair. They come to play at the cold dark sister’s wedding.

As the sound of the harp reaches the bride’s ears, the ballad concludes, “and surely now her tears will flow.” Wolfe’s piece follows the dramatic arc of the ballad—the music reflecting an argument that builds, a body floating on the sea, and of course, the mad harp. – Brendan Howe


Robert Honstein: Night Scenes from the Ospedale (Soundspells Productions)
The Sebastians

This work by Robert Honstein may not have been intended to be creepy, but whatever the goal, the result is unmistakable. From the slow scraping and scratching of strings at the very beginning to the long, stretched out melodies and despondent harpsichord, this piece has major spook factor. It’s also just a great piece of music; I love the way tension is slowly increased throughout each interlude, guiding the ear to always expect ever-higher sounds and some new string effect.

Night Scenes from the Ospedale depicts the nighttime stillness of the famous girls’ orphanage in Venice with the orchestra that performed many of Vivaldi’s works. It seems to capture the dusky darkness of that place long after the last note of rehearsal has fallen silent. It’s also great in its original presentation on the album, with works by Vivaldi interspersed between the interludes. – Geoffrey Larson

Musical Chairs: Chuck Corey on Classical KING FM

by Maggie Molloy

Chuck Corey has a pretty cool job. Some of his daily duties include playing microtonal music, making repairs on handmade instruments, tuning hundreds of strings—oh, and curating concerts of Harry Partch’s music.

Chuck is the Director the Harry Partch Instrumentarium, currently in residence at the University of Washington. Partch was a pioneer of new music, and one of the first 20th century composers to work extensively with microtonal scales. He created dozens of incredible instruments specifically for the performance of his musical texts and corporeal theatre works.

Chuck shares recordings of his favorite Partch pieces (and other composers that have inspired him) this Friday at 7pm on Classical KING FM 98.1’s Musical Chairs program. Click here to tune in, and take our photo tour of the instruments below!

All photos by Maggie Molloy.

Curious what the instruments sound like? Get a sneak peek when you watch the videos below of Chuck performing on Partch’s handmade creations: