Meet the Instruments of the Harry Partch Instrumentarium

by Maggie Molloy

Walking into the Harry Partch Instrumentarium for the first time is a bit like walking into Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory—except Willy Wonka’s not a chocolatier, but a luthier of sorts. And Charlie’s not a young protégé, but a grown man named Charles Corey. He goes by Chuck for short.

There’s no candy or chocolate in this factory, but rather, the walls and floor are all covered in colorful, handmade musical instruments created out of wood and strings, gongs and glass, gizmos and gadgets. Oh, and everything you touch turns to microtonal melodies.

Chromelodeon - Photo by Maggie Molloy

All Photos by Maggie Molloy

Chuck is the director and curator of the Harry Partch Instrumentarium, which has been in residence at the University of Washington since 2014. Partch was an innovative and iconoclastic composer, music theorist, and creator of musical instruments—and the Instrumentarium is devoted to preserving and performing his works.

Partch was a pioneer of new music; he 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 musical texts and corporeal theatre works.

Through research, instruction, and performance, Chuck shares Partch’s music and instruments with, well, anyone who is interested. Next Tuesday, April 26, he presents a concert of Partch’s music at Meany Hall, featuring local musicians, students, and community members who have studied the instruments with him over the past year.

Charles Corey - Photo by Maggie Molloy

“I have had the opportunity to work with Partch’s instruments for nearly half my life, and am still amazed by some of the sounds he creates in his music,” Chuck said. “Partch is best known for his just-intoned tuning system and the instruments he invented, but if he were not also a great composer I don’t think his work would have gained much of a following.  For me, it is rewarding to perform his music and solve the problems his instruments present, and I remain impressed by his distinctive musical language.”

Chuck first learned about the instruments while doing his undergraduate studies at Montclair State University, which housed the instruments at that time. His instructor was Dean Drummond, a composer and protégé of Partch.

“As a young composer, I was captivated by these unique sounds and a tuning system that I had never heard of, and quickly decided I wanted to be as involved as possible with the Partch program,” Chuck said.

Of course, being the director of the Partch Instrumentarium is no small commitment. Outside of teaching and performing, Chuck also takes care of all of the tuning, maintenance, and repairs on all of the instruments. Just to give you an idea, there are over 50 instruments in the collection—some with as many as 72 strings!

Aside from the peculiar tunings, each instrument also has its own unique performance idiosyncrasies.

Charles Corey with Chromelodeon - Photo by Maggie Molloy“Some of the instruments require an unusual performance technique and many of the instruments have a complicated tablature, so learning the music can be a challenge,” Chuck said. “That said, it can be particularly rewarding to learn the idiosyncrasies of these instruments and discover how to draw just the right sound out.”

In addition to curating, directing, teaching, performing, and maintaining the instruments, Chuck also provides guided tours of the instruments by appointment. He was kind enough to show me around the Instrumentarium and let me see, touch, play, and take photos of every single instrument in the room.

Please, allow me to introduce you to just a few of them:

Diamond Marimba - Photo by Maggie MolloyDiamond Marimba:
This instrument is a physical manifestation of one of Partch’s most crucial theoretical concepts: the “tonality diamond.” Built in 1946, the instrument contains all twelve of Partch’s primary tonalities, each laid out in a series of thirds. It’s used as a prominent percussion instrument in many of his works.


Gourd Tree - Photo by Maggie MolloyGourd Tree:
Built in 1964, the Gourd Tree is comprised of 12 temple bells attached to gourd resonators, each of which hangs suspended from a eucalyptus branch. (Yes, a eucalyptus branch.) The instrument is often played in conjunction with Partch’s Cone Gongs, which are made out of nose cones from airplane fuel tanks.


Cloud-Chamber Bowls - Photo by Maggie MolloyCloud-Chamber Bowls:
Partch’s most iconic instrument, the Cloud-Chamber Bowls are made up of large glass gongs of varying sizes suspended in a wooden frame and played with mallets. Partch initially created the instrument in 1950 using Pyrex carboys discarded by the Radiation Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.


Chromelodeon - Photo by Maggie MolloyChromelodeon: The colorful Chromelodeon, built in 1945, is an adapted reed organ modified to conform to Partch’s tonality system. The instrument plays a 43-tone per octave scale, as opposed to a typical Western keyboard, which plays 12 tones per octave. In addition to a standard keyboard and a collection of stops, the Chromelodeon also includes an additional keyboard of Partch’s own creation called the “sub-bass,” located in the upper left corner of the instrument. Both keyboards have colored and numbered labels representing ratios of the tuning system. Oh, and also: the player has to furiously pump two foot pedals throughout the entire performance in order fill the organ’s bellows and create sound.

Kithara II: Towering at nearly seven feet tall, the Kithara II requires the performer to stand on a riser in order to play it. Built in 1954, the instrument has twelve sets of six strings which correspond to Partch’s primary tonalities; four of these sets employ Pyrex rods as movable bridges. The Kithara II is also Chuck’s personal favorite instrument in the collection.


Surrogate Kithara - Photo by Maggie MolloySurrogate Kithara: As the name suggests, the Surrogate Kithara was originally invented as a substitute for Partch’s original Kithara, and was created when he began writing music for the instrument that was too difficult for one person to play. The Surrogate Kithara features two sets of eight strings, each with a Pyrex rod that serves as a movable bridge.


Bamboo Marimba II (Boo II): Affectionately dubbed “Boo II,” the Bamboo Marimba II (built in 1971) consists of 64 tubes of mottled Japanese bamboo organized into six ranks. Each tube is open on both ends, and tongues are cut into the bamboo at approximately 1/6 of the length of the tube in order to produce a harmonic at 6/5 of the fundamental pitch.


Bass Marimba - Photo by Maggie MolloyBass Marimba: Built in 1950, the Bass Marimba features 11 bars made of Sitka spruce. Just to give you an idea of the massive size of this instrument, the top of the bars are five feet above the floor, and the player must stand on a riser six feet wide and over two feet tall in order to play it. Each bar is situated over an organ pipe which serves as a resonator, and the lowest bar corresponds to a C2 on piano which, for those of you who don’t play piano, is pretty darn low. The instrument can be played with mallets or by slapping the 
bars with the pads of your fingers.

The Spoils of War - Photo by Maggie MolloyThe Spoils of War: Created in 1950, this instrument takes its name from the seven artillery casings that hang from the top of the instrument. The instrument also includes four Cloud-Chamber Bowls, two pieces of tongued bamboo, one woodblock, three steel “whang guns,” and a guiro. Just think of it as a Harry Partch drum-set of sorts.


New Harmonic Canon I - Photo by Maggie MolloyNew Harmonic Canon I: Built in 1945, the New Harmonic Canon I is a 44-stringed instrument with a complex systems of bridges. It was built specifically to accommodate a second tuning, allowing the performer to play in either one or both of the different tunings simultaneously. The strings are tuned differently depending on the piece, and are played with fingers, picks, or in some cases, mallets.


Harmonic Canon II - Photo by Maggie MolloyHarmonic Canon II: Nicknamed the “Castor and Pollux,” the Harmonic Canon II (built in 1953) features two resonating boxes with 44 strings across the top. Bridges are placed beneath the strings specifically for the tuning of each composition. Like all of Patch’s Harmonic Canons, the instrument may be played with fingers, picks, or mallets.


Adapted Guitar II - Photo by Maggie MolloyAdapted Guitar II: The ten-string Adapted Guitar II is a steel-string guitar which is played with a slide. Partch first began experimenting with adapted guitars in the 1930s, and by 1945 he began using amplification for them. The ten strings of the Adapted Guitar II are typically tuned either to Partch’s “otonality” or “utonality” (terms Partch used to describe chords whose pitch classes are the harmonics or subharmonics of a given fixed tone). Thankfully, the headstock is specially designed to allow the player to change the tuning within seconds.

So there you have it
a little taste of the magical and mysterious musical inventions of the Partch Instrumentarium. In order to fully understand, you’ll have to see and hear them for yourself next Tuesday. After all, the instruments are meant to be played.

“Physical possession of scores and instruments is meaningless unless the knowledge, the usages, the traditions, the ethos, the daimon that underlie and permeate them are somehow present,” Partch wrote in a 1967 statement to UCLA. “If my music is considered important by some future generation, these realities are basic. If it is not, my instruments become a pile of sculptural junk, and the scores fragments in a whirlwind.”

But these instruments are so much more than just a pile of junk, and this concert is a testament to the significance of Partch’s innovations in 20th century classical music. Partch may have died in 1974, but his musical legacy lives on in the hands of anyone who picks up his instruments.
Charles Corey with Cloud-Chamber Bowls - Photo by Maggie Molloy“These musicians have been working very hard to learn new instruments, new music, and new ways of performing,” Chuck said, “And there’s a great satisfaction in sharing something so unique with a new audience.”

And trust me, these instruments are nothing if not unique. To some, the far-flung musical contraptions of the late Partch may look like the work of a mad scientist—but I prefer to think of them as the work of a musical scientist. And Harry Partch was one hell of a Willy Wonka.


The Music of Harry Partch will be performed on Tuesday, April 26 at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Washington’s Meany Theater. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

NEW VIDEO: Berceuse by Melia Watras

by Maggie Stapleton

It’s no secret that we’re big fans of husband and wife duo Michael Jinsoo Lim and Melia Watras. They’re one half of the Corigliano Quartet, whose recordings are often heard on our 24/7 stream, we’ve featured them on our weekly program The Takeoverreviewed Melia’s latest Sono Luminus album Ispirareand most recently we hosted them in our studios to record a video of Melia’s composition, Berceuse. This piece showcases Melia’s composer-performer role and the beauty of a relationship between two people share a life in and outside of music.

“Berceuse for violin and viola is an adaptation of the original voice and viola version of the piece, which I wrote for the fantastic folk singer Galia Arad. The piece first took shape while I was practicing the exquisite fourth movement lullaby of Robert Schumann’s Märchenbilder. Galia’s folk style was very much in my mind as I composed.

Violinist Michael Jinsoo Lim and I have been performing together since we met in our freshman year at Indiana University, so it was a natural fit to adapt Berceuse for violin and viola. Mike also exchanged bow for pen, as the author of the text for the vocal version of the piece.” – Melia Watras

Michael and Melia are integral to the (new) music community in Seattle – Michael as Concertmaster of the Pacific Northwest Ballet and Melia as Associate Professor of Viola and chair of Strings at the University of Washington. Both actively perform in other venues around the Northwest and are always pushing the boundaries of what music and art can be.

Melia&Mike2015 Michelle Smith-Lewis

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To see more videos produced by Second Inversion, check out our video page!

CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: June 11-13

by Maggie Molloy 

This week’s concert calendar spans the musical gamut from viola da gamba to Morton Feldman!

Morton Feldman’s “For John Cage”

Morton Feldman

In true New York fashion, composer Morton Feldman first met John Cage at a New York Philharmonic performance of Anton Webern’s Symphony, Op. 21. Disturbed by the audience’s disrespectful reaction to Webern’s work, the two had each individually stepped out into the lobby, where they began talking.

Both composers went on to become pioneers of indeterminate music—and perhaps more importantly, close friends. The two influenced each other over the course of their careers, and in 1997 Feldman wrote “For John Cage,” a 75-minute piece for violin and piano.

This week the University of Washington’s contemporary music ensemble, Inverted Space, is concluding its Long Piece Fest with a performance of this epic (and lengthy) work. Violinist Luke Fitzpatrick and pianist Brooks Tran will breathe life into this unique piece, which is meant to be performed at a barely audible volume. The piece combines Feldman’s expansive harmonies with Cage’s interest in silence and stasis, thus delicately exploring poetic dissonance in a state of prolonged stillness.

The performance is this Thursday, June 11 at 7:30 p.m. at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.

 

Joshua Roman Performs Gregg Kallor’s Chamber Music

joshua-roman-683x455Cellist Joshua Roman is well-known in the Seattle classical music community—after all, he became the youngest principal player in Seattle Symphony history at just 22 years old. But his reputation as a gifted and innovative musician expands far beyond just his Seattle achievements. He has performed as a soloist around the world, and this week we have unique opportunity to hear him perform in one of the major classical music centers of America: New York City.

Miranda Cuckson by Beowulf SheehanRoman will be performing a dazzlingly lyrical piece titled “Undercurrent” by composer and pianist Gregg Kallor, the inaugural composer-in-residence at SubCulture in NYC. The performance also features world premieres of two new pieces written by Kallor, performed by violinist Miranda Cuckson, mezzo-soprano Adriana Zabala, and baritone Matthew Worth.

gregg-kallor2-683x1026Kallor’s works blend classical and jazz traditions with a distinctly New York flavor. But since it’s a long flight to NYC, we thought we’d bring the music to you: Second Inversion is going to record the live performance and broadcast it later on our website for your listening pleasure.

The performance is this Thursday, June 11 at 7:30 p.m. at SubCulture in New York. We’ll keep you updated on the details for our Second Inversion broadcast!

Colleen and Hanna Benn

lisbon-st-george-church-23-may-2013-far-out-and-beyond-3-600x400

Violas da gamba may have been popular instruments during the Baroque period, but for the past several centuries the violin family has dominated the classical music scene—which is why one French musician is giving the age-old viola da gamba a new-age makeover.

Colleen is the alias of Cécile Schott, a French musician who reimagines the possibilities of acoustic instruments by taking them out of their usual contexts and pushing them into new musical territory. Over the course of her five albums, she has created a wide-ranging repertoire of compositions spanning from meditative and mysterious to playful and percussive. This weekend, she’s coming to Seattle to present a performance which merges old and new music traditions: viola da gamba with live electronic processing and singing.

Seattle composer and vocalist Hanna Benn will open the show with a rare solo set.

soldoutnew

The performance is this Saturday, June 13 at 8 p.m. at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.  UPDATE: This concert is sold out! Please refer to Colleen‘s website and Hanna‘s SoundCloud for future performance info.

 

CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: May 7-11

by Maggie Molloy 

Add some color to your May with a jaunt down “Abbey Road,” a trip to a microtonal music instrumentarium, and many more multihued music events!

Inmi_Lee-600x400

Machinations Musical, Divers & Sundry

Music and machine unite this week at a diverse and sundry performance featuring the electroacoustic works of students and graduates from the University of Washington.

“Machinations Musical, Divers & Sundry” will feature original works by composers who are currently studying (or have previously studied) at UW’s School of Music or Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS). The wide-ranging program has everything from 19-tone equal temperament electric guitars to violin-horn duos to computer-realized surround sound to kinetic sculpture—all performed by the composers themselves.

The performance is this Thursday, May 7 at 8 p.m. at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.

Seattle Composers’ Salon

owcharuk-38-600x400Jazz up your Friday night with a trip to the Seattle Composers’ Salon, featuring a selection of Seattle’s smoothest, snazziest jazz cats.

The bi-monthly Salon presents new music in a casual setting, offering composers, performers, and audience members a space to experiment and discuss contemporary works. This evening’s performance features composer, jazz pianist, and accordionist Michael Owcharuk, jazz drummer Matthew James Briggs, and composers Jessi Harvey and Ian McKnight.

The performance is this Friday, May 8 at 8 p.m. at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford.

Prism: Pärt and MacMillan

spm-2014-box-prism

“I could compare my music to white light which contains all colors,” said Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. “Only a prism can divide the colors and make them appear; this prism could be the spirit of the listener.”

In honor of Pärt’s 80th birthday, Seattle Pro Musica is performing a concert full of the influential composer’s colorful choral works. Known for his sacred and classical music, Pärt is inspired by elements of minimalism as well as his own mystical experiences with chant music.

The concert will also feature the melodic, modern works of James MacMillan, the multihued harmonies of Brian Edward Galante, and a world premiere of a new commission by John Muehleisen.

Performances are this Friday, May 8 and Saturday, May 9 at 8 p.m. at St. James Cathedral in Seattle.

Seattle Rock Orchestra Performs the Beatles’ “Let It Be” & “Abbey Road”

11075127_10153201520154701_6046224716365264670_n

This weekend, Seattle Rock Orchestra is taking fans down a “Long and Winding Road” through the Beatles’ discography. The performance is the fourth entry in their chronological exploration of the band’s catalogue of classics, arriving at their final studio recordings: “Let it Be” and “Abbey Road.”

“Come Together” for this beautiful evening of beloved Beatles tunes which will take you “Across the Universe,” to an “Octopus’s Garden,” all the way along “Abbey Road’s” famous 16-minute medley, and through countless other rock ‘n’ roll classics. The performance will feature guest vocalists Zach Davidson (of Vendetta Red), Tamara Power-Drutis, Matt and Mike Gervais (of Mikey & Matty), and Miranda Zickler (of Wild Rabbit).

Performances are this Saturday, May 9 at 8 p.m. and Sunday, May 10 at 2 p.m. at the Moore Theatre.

Music of Today: Harry Partch Instruments Presentation

partch1

Harry Partch was a composer, music theorist, and instrument maker interested in much more than just your typical 12 intervals to the octave. He was one of the first 20th century composers in the West to work with microtonal scales, building his own custom-made instruments in different tunings in order to perform his compositions.

And now, you can see (and hear) these instruments in all their microtonal magnificence at the University of Washington. Next week Charles Corey, director of the Harry Partch Institute at UW, will be giving a public demonstration of instruments from the collection. The Harry Partch Instrumentarium is currently in residence at the UW School of Music.

The presentation is this Monday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. at UW’s Meany Hall.

LIVE CONCERT SPOTLIGHT: April 9-14

by Maggie Molloy

This week’s crazy concert calendar has burgers, brews, British acousmatics, and Bach!

UW School of Music and DXARTS Presents Jonty Harrison

Jonty Harrison

Jonty Harrison

In today’s innovative arts scene, you can make music from just about anything. Computers, sound clips, found objects—anything is fair game. But in recent decades British composer Jonty Harrison has been pushing the envelope even further, popularizing the notion that perhaps even the concert hall itself can be an instrument of musical expression.

Harrison is highly regarded as one of the central figures behind the British acousmatic school of composition: a type of electroacoustic music which is specifically composed for presentation using speakers as opposed to live performance. In 1982, he founded BEAST (Birmingham ElectroAcoustic Sound Theatre), a sound diffusion system designed to present electronic music over an orchestra of loudspeakers. And this week, he is turning Seattle’s own Meany Theater into a stunning soundscape by presenting a variety of works from throughout his compositional career.

The performance is this Thursday, April 9 at 7:30 p.m. at the University of Washington’s Meany Theater.

Seattle Modern Orchestra Presents 21st Century Violin

21st Century Violin

Graeme Jennings

The violin has been one of the central solo instruments of Western music since the Baroque era—and even now, five centuries later, composers are still finding new ways of exploring this vibrant instrument’s vast sonic possibilities. This weekend, Seattle Modern Orchestra will celebrate a colorful palette of 21st century violin music in a special concert featuring Australian violinist Graeme Jennings.

Jennings will perform the world premiere of a piece written for him by Seattle Modern Orchestra co-Artistic Director, Jérémy Jolley. The piece, titled “Controclessidra,” is scored for violin and electric guitar. Next on the program, Jennings will tackle Luciano Berio’s virtuosic “Sequenza VIII” for solo violin, the U.S. premiere of Salvatore Sciarrino’s translucent “Le Stagioni Artificiali,” and finally, Franco Donatoni’s melodic and modal “Spiri.”

The performance is this Saturday, April 11 at the Chapel Performance Space at the Good Shepherd Center in Wallingford. A pre-concert presentation will begin at 7:30 p.m. and the performance will begin at 8 p.m.

Bach, Brews, and Burgers at Naked City Brewery

Early Music Underground

Early Music Underground

What does Bach have to do with burgers? More than you might think. This weekend, Early Music Underground and Naked City Brewery are teaming up to present “Bach, Brews, and Burgers,” an evening of Baroque music in a not-so-Baroque setting: a local brewery and bar.

The concert setting may be new, but the music is classic—after all, if it’s not Baroque, don’t fix it, right? Feast your ears on the musical works of J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach, Johann Fasch, and Frantisek Tuma, performed by flautist Joshua Romatowski, violinist Steve Creswell, bassoonist Ron Evans, and harpsichordist Henry Lebedinsky.

Fun fact: C.P.E. Bach was known as “the Hamburg Bach” since he spent 20 years working as music director at the court in Hamburg, Germany (from which the American “hamburger” is derived). His famous “Hamburger Sonata” is on the program (or should we say menu?) for the evening’s performance.

The concert is next Tuesday, April 14 at 7 p.m. at Naked City Brewery in Greenwood.

For more concert listings, check out Second Inversion’s event calendar.