Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Delusion of the Fury

Holy crap, so much has been going on since the last time I wrote here! Most of it really really good, nigh unto great.

On Thursday, I went with E-beth to see and hear Harry Partch's Delusion of the Fury. Extraordinary, and almost a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Partch wrote this in I think 1967, it was performed - once - in 1969, and had never been performed since. Until last week, when Dean Drummond's Newband ensemble joined forces with stage director John Jesurun, choreographer Dawn Akemi Saito and a solid group of performers to stage it at the Japan Society. Really fascinating stuff - a musical introduction followed by Act 1, which was drawn from/inspired by a Japanese Noh Drama; then a musical interlude, followed by Act 2, which came from an African comic story.

One of the main reasons that this piece is done so rarely (read - pretty much never) is that it depends on specific instruments of Partch's invention, like these here 'Cloud Chamber Bowls'.

Parch composed in microtones, which you can sort of think of as the 'notes between the notes.' These tend not to exist in Western music, and most Western instruments can't play them (at least not very well). This didn't slow down Harry Partch though - he just invented a bunch of totally rad and innovative instruments that look like they've been pulled from Dr. Seuss stories via a mad scientist's laboratory.

This little guy, for instance, depends on liquor bottles to make its music:

Specific liquor bottles, no less. It's called a Zymo-Xyl, and when Partch was playing around with it in the early stages, he discovered that each brand of whiskey, gin, vodka, etc. has its own specific tone (some of which fall into the microtone category) So ultimately, the specs called for certain empty booze bottles to go in each slot: Tanqueray here, Bacardi there, that kind of thing.

So you need these instruments to do this music, and as far as I know, each and every one is one-of-a-kind. And most of them are big, and i suspect rather fragile, so a bunch of traveling isn't apt to happen. Result: you get to see his music, when at all, in small doses at the Partch Institute in Montclair, New Jersey. The large-scale works, you don't get to see at all.

Except for last week!

I admit, when I was told about this show, I was suspicious, especially since it was a pretty expensive ticket. The whole "Yeah, this looks fun on paper, but am I going to get there and yawn through the whole thing? 'Cause I don't want to be spending my bucks on that for the sake of doing something 'arty' just because it's rare."

But E-Beth talked me into it, and let me tell you, people - I didn't yawn. It was by turns fascinating and exciting and moving and funny. Really really fun. Plus, you know, so far it happens one time in every two generations.

As I see it, this is one of the reasons we live in New York.

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