Photographs of Instruments Built by Harry Partch and Heard in His Recorded Music

It is inherent in the being of the creative art worker to know and understand the materials he needs, and to create them where they do not exist, to the best of his ability. In music, this characteristic must go far beyond the mere competence to compose and analyze a score. It is more difficult for the composer to create the colors of needed sound than it is for the painter to create the colors of needed light, but it is no less important that he find it possible to do so. The usual musical traditions are against him in the effort; in our time they are recognizable as traditions only when they have reached the comfortable plateau of academic security. But the rebelliously creative act is also a tradition, and if our art of music is to be anything more than a shadow of its past, the traditions in question must periodically shake off dormant habits and excite themselves into palpable growth.

If one must have the solid feeling of historical respectability beneath him in order to function, our world provides it in myriad variety, beyond the immediate locale, before the immediate past. He does not need to become an archaeologist to realize that there is hardly an exotic line he could write, a variant article he could create, or a singular idea he could brew, that would not be felicitous in some tradition, at some point on the globe, at some conjectured time in the cultured past. My instruments belong to many traditions, especially including the present ones: affirmation of parentage provides the primary substance of rebellion.

Their tuning is based on a 43-tone-to-the-octave system of acoustic -- not equal -- intonation, which is explained in my book, Genesis of a Music, published by the University of Wisconsin Press in 1949. A new range of melodic resources, a new series of tonality relationships, and a new perspective on consonance and dissonance are all implicit in the system. Beyond these severely definable ideas is the music itself, elusive to words. I call it corporeal, because it roots itself with other arts necessary to civilization, in a unity that is important to the whole being -- mind and body. Even the visual element of seeing the instruments played is a vital one.

I began designing and building instruments nearly forty years ago. Five of those represented here are explained in my book. The others have been built since the time of that publication. All have been built and rebuilt -- one of them seven times -- to improve quality. No two are exactly alike. I am not an instrument-builder, but a philosophic music-man seduced into carpentry.

H. P. -- June, 1962

EDITORS NOTE: This booklet on Partch's instruments was included with some of his recordings. I have tried to keep the layout much the same as the print version; even the title at the top of this introduction is a scan of the original typesetting. Nonetheless, some of the appearance is changed by virtue of the medium, mostly that some of the photos were as large as six by six inches, but I have kept the size of the images manageable for reasonable net access. The larger deviation, however, is the inclusion of audio examples of each instrument as well. By clicking on the photo on each page, you can hear a sample of that instrument in a RealAudio streaming file; if you have any problems, see the site use page. For browsers with JavaScript support, I've included a menu so you can skip to your favorite instruments; otherwise, you can step through the booklet page by page. Have fun...   JMS

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