By Harry Partch
Harry Partch was an American composer, instrument builder, and music theorist who abandoned the equal tempered chromatic scale in favor of microtonal scales. This put him in a one man battle against entire popular and classical music establishments of his day. The four CD set Enclosure Two preserves a large portion of Partch’s legacy. Consisting of archival recordings of Partch’s musical works, demonstrations of his tonal theories, and contemporary performances of select pieces, Enclosure Two offers a glimpse into the idiosyncratic mind, and often tragic life, of an autodidact genius trying to survive in the American West during the Depression Era. Always interested in tonality of speech, Partch composed Barstow around graffiti he found written under a bridge in Barstow, California.
Partch’s intention was to capture the pitch and rhythm of natural English speech as opposed to the formal unnatural English typically found in the concert hall. Partch had ample opportunity pick up very natural speech, as he was forced to live as a hobo and migrant worker through much of the 1930s. A testament to the strength of his spirit, he managed to keep writing music and building instruments through those years. Partch’s journals of his hobo years were published as Bitter Music. Included on Enclosure Two is an abridged reading of Bitter Music by Warren Burt recorded for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
Later in life Partch reestablished his ties with (cough cough) respectable society and found a small but extremely devoted group of admirers and even had recordings released by Columbia Masterworks. His influence has only grown since his death in 1974. He inspired a generation of microtonal composers, and his stranger than fiction biography has turned him into something of a hipster icon. Check out Enclosure Two for a different take on musical tonality and a view of American history from the margins.