By LA Weekly
By Henry Rollins
By Weekly Photographers
By Shea Serrano
By Nate "Igor" Smith
By Dan Weiss
By Erica E. Phillips
By Kai Flanders
“Harrison had already been exploring tunings with John Cage in the mid-’40s, and just went nuts,” says Schneider. “His famous saying is, he went out and bought a tuning hammer and never looked back.”
Harry Partch was, in his arcane way, just writing folk music after all. Barstow and U.S. Highball tells the story of Partch’s journey in empty boxcars to Chicago as a starving, shivering hobo during the pits of the Depression. During the trip, Partch scribbled down trackside graffiti and snatches of hobo chat and rail-yard cop talk, and transcribed the crudely pointed words and their barking rhythms into music. While he was homeless and on the road, he kept a diary, later published as Bitter Music (University of Illinois Press). It became a stage piece in which he mixed his stories with music that notated the exact pitches and cadences of the way people talk.
“He says in that book that he found himself dumped into a fountainhead of real Americana, real music,” says Schneider. “He was fighting all that stuff about the European image, and he said that the best music that people have to offer does not come from the upper classes down, it’s always the other direction. It comes from the streets, it comes from real experience.”
Nevertheless, the lessons Partch learned from his studies of Greek mythology found metaphorical expression in most of his Americana-themed works, including the music for the film Windsong (1958), in which Daphne and Apollo’s story is set on a Michigan sand dune, on a shore of the Great Lakes. (Windsong and other Partch-scored films will be screened at the REDCAT event.)
The intrepid coal-mine canary Partch remains inspirational, not least for the lonesome road he trekked in quest of his dreams, but perhaps most for the way he ultimately justified his vision — free from, as he put it, “European-style New York chauvinism” — with a genuinely new music that sounds, feels and looks great.
“You open a door and there’s Partch,” says Schneider. “What he did was open up a whole new wing to music, saying, There are notes you’ve never heard before, there are harmonies that you’ve never heard before, that will release emotions that you didn’t know you had. It’ll put you in musical spaces. It’s like leaving the earth.”
“Partch Dark/Partch Light” will be performed at REDCAT on Friday, May 29 and Saturday, May 30.