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Partch's "Plectra and Percussion Dances" revived

Fred Lyon, courtesy Harry Partch Foundation

Microtonal manager: Harry Partch

Mention microtonalism and the name Harry Partch immediately stands out. All his life, the American composer experimented with tones and instruments, leaving the standard chromatic and 12-tone scales in the dust as he soared into dimensions uncharted and luminously original. From early childhood Partch was composing, but he burned all of his youthful works, which were traditionally Western, when he became frustrated with the limitations and flaws of that system of musical tuning — which, he maintained, was woefully lacking when it came to reflecting the complex and subtle aspects of dramatic speech. Partch subsequently began building his own unique instruments, like the Monophone, or “Adapted Viola”; the Diamond Marimba, a marimba with keys arranged in a physical manifestation of the 11-limit tonality diamond; the Cloud Chamber Bowls, a set of Pyrex bowls in a cloud chamber; the Zymo-Xyl, a xylophone enhanced with tuned liquor bottles and hubcaps; and a host of other ingenious sound producers that would have made Mr. Wizard proud. This weekend, composer John Schneider and his ensemble make history when they perform Partch’s complete score of Plectra and Percussion Dances: Satyr-Play Music for Dance Theater on a fascinating array of Partch’s custom-designed instruments. It will be the first live performance of the work since its premiere broadcast in 1953, and aptly includes Partch’s own introduction to the piece, as heard on Pacific Radio in that broadcast. REDCAT, 631 W. Second St., dwntwn.; Fri.-Sat., May 30-31, 8:30 p.m.; $25, $20 students. (213) 237-2800 or www.redcat.org.


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