THE OUTSIDER:
THE STORY OF HARRY PARTCH (2002)

Director: Darren Chesworth
Year: 2002
Time: 59 mins
Music: Harry Partch
Eye of Sound: His obsession with the subjective human voice and the musicality of speech; his partly relativistic deconstruction of the twelve-note scale as an arbitrary straitjacket; his ethnographic sensibility towards different modes of conceiving language, tuning and existence; his need to create channels suited for his new microtonal chromatic universe; his expansion into convergent fields of expression such as film, theatre and dance; and his desire to capture the vernacular as a locus for the textures of being - all these probably make Partch's the most encompassing of modern creative utopias. Such an overarching  project of existence and creation, obviously, could hardly be comprised in an one-hour documentary, and it would take a considerable amount of creativity and an unflinching focus to cast a shadow of justice over Partch's vision in such a short time. One aspect that could have been jettisoned is, as usual, the biographic mode, the linear movement from A to Z that suggests apparently logic explanations and connections for processes and objects that are far from logical and linear, supported by an invisible voice-over narration that simulates contextualization and sequence. Narrative becomes a form of containment and disambiguation: Partch's struggle with devitalized modes of composition and the 12-tone octave is all of a sudden brought into light by the reading of one single book, On the Sensation of Tone by H. Helmholtz, and his "discovery" of the arbitrary nature of the Western scale smoothly harmonised with his several inner and outer "deviances", sexuality included; inversely, Partch's long-celebrated and romanticised decision to follow a hobo trail for almost a decade is simply glossed as a reaction to the Great Depression and left strangely disconnected from the surrounding acts. There are the usual statements by friends, patrons and composers, such as Lou Harrison, Gavin Bryars, John Schneider, Phillip Blackburn, and Phillip Glass, adding very little to our understanding of Partch's universe, and it is from biographers and archivists that the most illuminating comments stem from. While the focus on the apparent eccentricity of the man seems to be a fruitless compromise with the conventions of current personality cults - including a minor polemic with Cage to boot -, it is not surprising that the most rewarding sections focus on the technical aspects of his work, microtonality being efficiently summarised bur perhaps not fully explored in its symbolic reach. The eclipse of "the truth of just intonation" was seen by Partch as a conspiracy in which "pure" musical structures had been corrupted and dilluted by a powerful but stifling hierarchical model, one that curtailed freedom and fostered forms of conformism. This supposedly pure tuning of ancient Greek tradition, which Partch tried to build into his microtonal edifice, and its promises of a wider access to the the truth that is supposed to inhere in the human voice, holds some of the keys for the composer's universe: a romantic search for a temps perdu, thought to be found both in ancient traditions and non-Western contemporary societies, guided, as ever, by a subversive desire to implode homeland strictures.  

14 comments:

  1. I do love Partch's work. Looks worth putting in the queue.

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  2. fantastic! merci!

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  3. i fought hard with the filehoster to get this goodie, but after a few minutes i won -

    i've never seen this film about partch. it's probably silly to mention, but i think of him as one of my favorite composers, alongside mengelberg, morricone or mancini (to pick those from 'the world of m').

    thx eye of sound, this is another marvellous addition to your fast-growing archive here - kenneth goldsmith + ubuweb can be proud to have such a partner!! ;)

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  4. p.s.: spooky header - simple, nice!

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  5. Icastico & Anonymous: glad you liked this

    Lucky: quite a motley crew you put together. sadly, I suspect that except for morricone, they would all feel rather uncomfortable if put in the same room for a few days.
    and, yes, it's a lovely header - I've been lucky enough to have some fine headers-designers sharing their work here...

    there will be more Partch material after a while, so stay tuned and love thy neighbor

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  6. looking forward to more partch - it's one thing to hear his music (definately the most important aspect), but his instruments are so beautiful to look at, too.

    the "motley crew" were featured on my first ever blog, which was dedicated to artists/bands beginning with a "m" in their (family) name - like material, mingus, melody four, etc.

    i'm not sure if mengelberg would be uncomfortable with any of them, certainly not with partch or morricone. like you may know, the latter was also involved in the avant improv group 'gruppo di improvvisazione nuova sonsonanza' (with franco evangelisti).

    hadn't the war stopped mancini with his studies at julliard after only one year, who knows where he would've headed. but lucky enough he gave the world some of the most fantastic melodies ever. i guess he and morricone certainly would've a lot to talk about in scoring movies. i'm not sure how partch would feel about all of them, though... ;)

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  7. Now, that's a good way to start a new blog: pick a letter and focus on artists whose names start with it. Maybe we can do that one of these days... ;) What was the name of that blog? Dial M for Murder?

    Can't say too much about Mengelberg, but from what I know about his music, I wouldn't be too surprised if he happened to whistle one or two Mancini tunes once in a while. Morricone could actually mediate between the two of them, not only because of his Nuova Consonanza years (available here) but also some other more experimental works he's done. Partch, well, I sincerely doubt he could go anywhere with those three, Mengelberg included, except, perhaps, take them to the liquor store.


    p.s. Thanks for the lovely new headers. Will put them soon

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  8. no longes available? :/

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  9. It seems to be working fine. Try again.

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  10. Many thanks for this! I can't wait to watch it!
    I'm researching music making with repurposed instruments and Harry Partch's work is highly important...
    Marilou

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  11. Glad you liked this, Mariloup. There will be more Partch material after a few posts, so stay tuned

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