on new world recording’s expanded reissue of harry partch’s seminal and on the seventh day petals fell in petaluma.

Harry Partch – And On The Seventh Day Petals Fell In Petaluma (1966 / 2017)

Note: This is a revised and expanded version of a text, originally published by SoundOhm.

The history of American avant-garde music is a snarled knot, twisting through the decades, spanning genre, practice, and approach. Most narratives place its origins within the post-war period, orbiting around John Cage, Morton Feldman, and those artists springing from the movements of Fluxus and free-jazz. American creative innovation issued unquestionable influence over the later half of 20th century, but the root of its radicalism was earlier, with its origins often misplaced – sometimes accidentally, but most often at the hand of intervention and manipulation (usually in the service of critical and academic agenda). While Europe played a part, the American musical avant-garde began as a distinctly indigenous form, the seeds planted by a handful of visionary and singular minds working in the shadows, laying the groundwork for what was to come. Of these, the composer Harry Partch is arguably the most notable – an unavoidable paradox, given that he has never received much note. One of the most important and singular voices of his century, he the focus of New World Recording latest LP, a lavishly expanded reissue of his seminal 1966 release, And On The Seventh Day Petals Fell In Petaluma.

Harry Partch with Cloud-Chamber Bowls and Spoils of War, Petaluma, CA, 1964

Harry Partch was a near perfect archetype of a now faded vision of American creative life. Cranky, single-minded, unflinchingly principled. A man whose artistic ideals led him to poverty and obscurity. A sometimes hobo drifter, who heard music where no else did. A composer, music theorist, and inventor / builder of instruments, Partch was born at the dawn of the 20th century, raised in the American West when it still held traces of being wild. Musically talented from a young age, his ear drew him toward the sounds of Asia, and the musics of the Native American communities with whom he interacted and met. By the time Partch enrolled in music school, his rigorous independence and nonconformity, with the seeds planted by these remarkable structures and sounds, had taken him too far. He had already heard to much to constrain himself to the boundaries of Western tone.

In hindsight, it’s hard to ignore how distinctly American the country’s seminal avant-garde gestures were. While the many forms of jazz are unavoidably specific in their location, the character of the country and its culture penetrated nearly every other creative realization with an equal force – the marching bands rattling in Ives’ ears and the streets in those of Cage, the cultural hybridity of Minimalism, the rebellion of Fluxus, and the innovative optimism of its electronic music pioneers. So to was the case for Partch, with the indigenous musics of the Americas rattling in his head.

 

Partch on the set of The Dreamer That Remains, by Betty Freeman (1972)

Despite his natural talent as a musician, Partch was destined to be a composer. He couldn’t play by society’s rules, let alone those imposed by the constraints of Western Classical music, no mater how wild and avant-garde. In his early 20’s, looking outward and beyond, he began experimenting with Just-Intonation – after the Mexican composer Julián Carrillo, the first to do so in the West, slowly expanding his tonal range and adapting instruments to meet his requirements, as the years wore on. At the outset of 1930’s, he abandoned nearly all connection to Western music, setting out to liberate the listener form the constraints of the 12 tone system, increasingly building wild, unique instruments from scratch.

Partch’s narrative is complex. He was widely respected by many of his peers, particularly Henry Cowell, Otto Luening, and Aaron Copland, among many others. During the Post-War period, he increasingly found moderate fame, enabling more security within his wandering, drifter’s life. With it came opportunities to perform his works and teach. While we have a lot to thank for this, what occurred during that moment has preserved the composer and his legacy for our ears, it seems probably that he was little more than a weird curiosity for most, a tap for the post-war America’s fixation with innovation and change.

Partch on the set of The Dreamer That Remains, by Betty Freeman (1972)

Importantly, Partch’s recorded output begins within this era, the first emerging (in an edition of 100) in 1946. The bulk of his entire recorded output – roughly two thirds of his relatively slim catalog, were self produce and releases, issued to fans at concerts and via mail order. While we are incredibly lucky for them all, and they provided the composer with a much needed, all be it meager, income, they also place him as an early precursor of the DIY movement which would come to prominence decades later. Partch layed the groundwork for punk, in more ways than one.

Despite the curiosity, respect of his peers, and moderate fame, Partch often proved too ahead of his time. There is no question that he placed extreme demands on his contemporary listeners. There was only so far they were willing to go. Because of this, despite his incredible importance within the history of American music, not to mention the avant-garde at large, he wasn’t offered the opportunity to record a wide commercial release until 1966, the seminal And On The Seventh Day Petals Fell In Petaluma, the first of only four albums to emerge during the last decade of his life.

 

The origianl 1966 CRI pressing of Harry Partch’s And On The Seventh Day Petals Fell In Petaluma

And On The Seventh Day Petals Fell In Petaluma, reissued now by New World Recordings – the second in their series dedicated to the composer, following 2015’s brilliant LP, A Portrait, is as important as Partch works get. Recorded with the Gate 5 Ensemble – comprised of The Gate 5 Ensemble – Danlee Mitchell, Harry Partch, Michael Ranta, Emil Richards, Wallace Snow, and Stephen Tosh, it’s incredibly beautiful, and a perfect entry point for uninitiated listeners, featuring more constrained and focused works, from a composer know for his adoration of the dramatic and grand scale. Comprised of 34 duets – played on the composers unique instruments, which demarcate the verses of the complete work, the album is a rippling cascade of complex rhythms and tonal relationships – strange and incredible dialogs in sound, which open the window onto how ahead of his time and important Partch was.

And On The Seventh Day Petals Fell In Petaluma is a true gem in Partch’s catalog, and unquestionably one of the most important artifacts within the canon of 20th century composition. On a more personal note, it’s always been among my favorites Partch LPs, and despite being overlooked – overshadowed by his more available releases on Columbia / CBS, is where I usually suggest people enter his canon of work. I’m overjoyed to see it brought back into the light. New World’s edition is as necessary and as timely as records reissues come. Guided by Partch’s full original statement for the first commercial release of the piece, previously only excerpted, it is an illumination of the composer’s broad an purpose. In addition to the late Bob Gilmore’s fantastic liner notes, this edition is expanded to include the original recording of, never before released and featuring Partch playing and recording his legendary Adapted Viola. As essential as them come. You can pick it up from the label, from SoundOhm, or a record store near you. I highly recommend that you do.

-Bradford Bailey

 

Harry Partch – And On The Seventh Day Petals Fell In Petaluma (1966 / 2017)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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