A true American musical maverick similar in some respects to Charles Ives, composer Harry Partch was born, the son of Presbyterian missionaries, in Oakland, California in June 1901. Much of his youth was spent in isolated Arizona and New Mexico towns, where, reportedly, he heard and sang songs in Spanish, several American Indian languages, and Mandarin, sung to him by his mother, who had spent time in China.
I came to the realization that the spoken word was the distinctive expression my
constitutional makeup was best fitted for, and that I needed other scales and other
instruments. this was the positive result of self-examination—call it intuitive,
for it was not the result of any intellectual desire to pick up lost or obscure
historical threads. for better or for worse, it was an emotional decision.
His first instrument was the "Monotone," an "adapted viola," which later joined with numerous others including The Diamond Marimba, The Quadrangularis Reversum, the 11-key Bass Marimba, Bamboo Marimbas (nicknamed "Boo" and "Boo II"), Cloud Chamber Bowls, an instrument he called "The Spoils of War" (which included Cloud Chamber Bowls, artillery shell casings, metal whang-guns, and wooden piecings), The Gourd Tree and Cone Gongs, an xylophone augmented with tuned liquor bottles and hubcaps (The Zymo-Xyl), Kitharas, and Harmonic Canons (played with fingers, picks or mallets).
The scribbling is in pencil. It is on one of the white highway railings just outside
the Mojave Desert junction of Barstow, California. I am walking along the highway
and sit down on the railing to rest.
Idly I notice the scratches where I happen to drop. I have seen many hitchhiker's
writings. they are usually just names and addresses—there are literally millions of them,
or meaningless obscenities, on the highway signs, railings, walls.
But this—why, it's music. It's both weak and strong, like unedited human
expressions always are. It's eloquent in what it fails to express in words. And it's
epic. Definitely, it is music....
Los Angeles, May 31, 2009