Composers like Harry Partch don't come along every day, or year, for that matter. This American iconoclast did things his own way, not only living as a hobo for a few years and teaching himself music in the local public library, but also inventing an entirely new musical scale and building his own arsenal of instruments made out of old violas, organs, car horns and Pyrex carboys (such DIY hybrids wouldn't have looked out of place at a Maker Faire). The instruments were so unique, and so hard to replicate, that performances of his works have been few and far between, as only one complete set of Partch's instruments has existed – until now.
The intrepid and forward-thinking Cologne, Germany-based music group Ensemble MusikFabrik has created a brand new set, and built each instrument over a three-year period specifically to Partch's designs. The group's hope is for greater discovery of this often-discussed, rarely-heard composer. New York audiences can experience his works at the Lincoln Center Festival on July 23 and 24, when the Ensemble MusikFabrik performs one of Partch's final works, Delusion of the Fury. The music-theater spectacle is considered to be the composer's magnum opus, and it incorporates nearly all of his instruments at the same time, while also making musicians act, dance, and sing. Also coming to the Lincoln Center Festival on July 23: Percussionist and vocalist David Moss's hybrid lecture-performance of Partch's Bitter Music, based on the composer's journal of his days as a transient.
To make the most of these pieces, and to understand Partch better, check out the infographic below, which highlights some of the composer's more interesting instruments, and briefly explains his 43-pitch microtonal scale.