Enclosure8: Harry PARTCH
Fourfilms by Madeline Tourtelot with music by Harry Partch:
• Music Studio: Harry Partch (1958.18:04)
• Windsong (1958.17:47)
• U.S.Highball (Music: 1943/1955. Film: 1958/1968. 24:26)
• Rotate theBody in All Its Planes (1961. 9:00)
• TheMusic of Harry Partch
(KEBS/KPBS-TV, San Diego, 1968.29:59)
• Barstow (M:1941, 1968, F: 1981)
(San Diego Partch Ensemble, DanleeMitchell, dir., 10:49)
• Castorand Pollux (M: 1952, F: 2006)
(Ensemble Partch, John Schneider,director,
with choreography by Liz Hoefner.17:18)
HarryPartch(1901-1974): composer, theorist, writer, dramaturg, visual artist, philosopher,flunky, musicologist, sound-sculptor, furniture-maker, dishwasher, copy editor,hobo, proofreader, aesthete, publisher, record producer, teacher, conductor,inventor, instrumentalist, painter, critic, gardener, librettist, storyteller,man of letters ...
Shortlybefore his passing, Harry Partch remarked to friends that he, like hisacquaintance Anais Nin, considered his lifetime’s work to be a kind of letterto the world. His finalcomposition would therefore be an enclosure; an afterthought, a gift ofremnants to the world in order to complete the message. Enclosures, this seriesof writings, sound and visuals, is offered as a substitute; a collection ofarchival materials reproduced in facsimile, giving depth to the Partch icon andsubstance to the Partch cult.
Thefirst four films presented here, produced by the notable Evanston film-makerand photographer Madeline Tourtelot, document some of Partch’s most successfulcollaborations. Along with the1972 DreamerThat Remains(innova 407), these were the only films to meet with his approval. Other film efforts that appropriatedPartch’s music without honoring his total concept of integration met with sternwarnings, as producers Kenneth Anger and Ian Hugo found out. Tourtelot’s output also includedfilm-poems on the passing seasons, reflections of nature seen in a pagoon, andan artist-portrait, MetalDimensions: Harry Bertoia, a designer who invented the bucket chair and laterbecame a sound sculptor. Thesefilms, along with her Partch works, were originally distributed by Cinema 16 inNew York and shown at festivals there and in Europe.
Partch’svision of music as a corporeal art, in which physicality, narrative, drama, movement,sound, dance, costume, and lighting are equally integrated, is best seen inlive performance. Suchperformances are all too rare because of the cost of maintaining an ensembleand the instruments’ lack of portability. Film is perhaps the next best medium, although the visual and audioquality does not get better with time (without a lot of digital help).
Asart films, these works were pioneering for their time. As music-dramas, they show Partch’ssingular view of the American myth: the pageant and ritual of the gymnasticsmeet, where physical prowess and beauty join; the self-made obsessed inventorat home stuffing mailers; the mundane epic of the ordinary guy’s voyage acrossthe land on a lonely quest for opportunity in the face of starvation, always onthe move towards the chimera of Chicago; and an Ancient Greek legendtransported to the eastern shores of Lake Michigan. In each film, the literal drama of the everyday takes onmythical proportions, a consciousness where the familiar becomes magic: thebarren desert, flop house or small Midwestern town can become the divine sceneof transformation.
Someof these films have been modified since they appeared on previous Enclosures:they have been digitally remastered. The last two films document performances made after Partch’s lifetimeand show some of the directions his followers have taken in interpreting hisphilosophies and keeping his music alive and kicking.
IfPartch were around today, he might have been dubbed a multi-media, multi-cultural,Queer, neo-Pagan, integrated outsider hybrid performance artist; epithets hewould not have hesitated to scorn. Yet they have become fashionable partly because of his persistentunderground influence on mainstream American culture over the last fiftyyears. Autodidact polymath, acreative thinker with a pluralist bent and an axe to grind against those whowould blindly adopt European hegemony in the New World, Partch’s place in themusical universe is being seriously considered not a moment too soon.
CASTOR & POLLUX
A Dance for the Twin Rhythms ofGemini (1952)
Dancers: MaudComboul, Melissa Donguez, Kate Fox, Liz Hoefner, Liana Lazos, Sarah Leddy
Musicians:Rachel Arnold, Erin Barnes, David Johnson, Vicki Ray, John Schneider, NickTerry, T.J. Troy
SoundEngineer: Giovanni di Simone
Video Footage:Carol McDowell, Yorgos Adamis
Video Edit:Liz Hoefner, Mark Bommarito
Performed atRedcat Theater, Los Angeles, May 30, 2006
Castor &Pollux: The Implications of Choreography in its Performance
Castor& Pollux (A Dance for the Twin Rhythms of Genimi) is the firstmovement of a lengthy three-movement work (about sixty minutes) by Harry Partchentitled PLECTRAAND PERCUSSION DANCES (An Evening of Dance Theater). The secondand third movements are titled respectively: 2) Ring Around the Moon (ADance Fantasm);and, 3) EvenWild Horses (Dance Music for an Absent Drama). While certain pieces with“Dance” in the title are not necessarily for the dance, PLECTRAAND PERCUSSION DANCES wereintended for such an application from the very beginning of its inception bythe composer. All three movements have programmatic implications in terms ofdance. Some are more clear, and others less. Castor & Pollux is based onthe Greek myth of Leda (a beautiful swan) and her seduction-impregnation byZeus (Partch: “. . . one of the most delightful seductions in mythology, . ..”, Genesisof a Music,p. 325). Partch’s “programme” of Castor & Pollux specificallydeals with the hatching of the two eggs laid (Partch: “presumably” / Genesis ofa Music,p. 325) by Leda, out of which are born Castor and Pollux, the Twins of Gemini.While intended for dance (“An Evening of Dance Theater”), first performances ofPLECTRAAND PERCUSSION DANCESwere instrumental concert versions only, due to the many problems involved inPartch’s life at that time (1952). It was not until 1966 that Partch witnesseda live instrumental-dance presentation of Castor & Pollux. As the lessproblematic movement to perform, Partch presented several concert performancesof Castor& Polluxbetween 1952 and later. It should be stated here that all the movements of P & PDANCESstand by themselves as concert presentations, whether as a whole, or singly.
Theformal-music structure of Castor& Polluxis of two large sections (I-Castor / II-Pollux / quarter note=116 throughout).Each section is comprised of three successive (attaca) instrumental duets thatare all combined together in a concluding tutti at the end of each respectivesection. In each of the two sections the first duet is subtitled‘Seduction/Insemination’, the second ‘Conception’, the third “Incubation”, andthe concluding tutti “Choruses of Delivery from the Egg”. The instrumentationof Castor& Pollux(2nd version) requires seven musicians: Diamond Marimba, two Bass Marimbists(high and low), Cloud-Chamber Bowls, Harmonic Canon II (right canon), Kithara,and Surrogate Kithara (the original Kithara part was divided between itself andthe Surrogate Kithara in the 2nd version, resulting in seven players). While agiven duet is being played, four or five of the remaining players are tacet.
In theoriginal 1952 score pertaining to Castor & Pollux, Partchindicates the number of dancers for each instrumental duet (2) and each tutti(6). Nothing about dancers is indicated in the other two movements. There is nocommentary as to choreography, costumes, lighting, staging, or the role of theseven musicians (whether to play on stage, in the pit, etc.). Many vexingquestions await a choreographer about to tackle this work. Should a large eggprop be used? If so, should it hatch open during the course of the movement.?If so, wouldn’t that involve one more dancer in the egg? Should the two dancerssomehow imitate the instrumental parts of the duets? Due to the inclusion ofsix dancers in the tuttis (or seven, if the “hatched egg” idea is used), shouldeach duet dance be repeated exactly, varied, or newly conceived? And what aboutthe instruments and musicians? Where shall they be placed—onstage, in thepit, offstage? Onstage! Are you kidding? Oh come now! Assault the veryfoundations of Western artistic purity? Pure music!? Pure dance!?
It is aroundthis time (the early 1950’s) that Partch began formulating his philosophy aboutthe musician as mover/dancer/actor—his “corporeal” vision of “totaltheater” whereby his instruments and the players were a part of the wholestaging-dramatic concept. The instruments and players as backdrop is assumed inany production of Partch’s King Oedipus (1951). Theinstruments as backdrop and the players an integral part of the “action” areabsolute essentials in Partch’s works after Plectra and Percussion Dances, such as TheBewitched, Revelation in the Courthouse Park, Water! Water!, and Delusionof the Fury. P & P Dances stands in the middle of all this,but in the eyes of this author it is Partch’s first proto-corporeal work, andit should be approached that way in its dramatic-choreographed presentation. Aperformance of the total work, or any of the movements singly, in any otherway, is a total cop out and a disservice to Partch’s vision.
One should askat this point, what were Partch’s stylistic partialities in terms of dance?What was his view in terms of the usage of dance, especially in its “higher”forms? It is a given that Partch loved all the Asian, African and other worlddance traditions, but what about Western? There is little discussion about thistopic in either Partch’s own testimony of world music history, tuning systems,and his own approach to tuning, Genesis of a Music, or in BobGilmore’s marvelous and revealing biography Harry Partch. In Genesis (p. 9, secondedition) Partch states: “The peoples of history have radicated (rooted) theirinstinctive Corporeal attitudes in many variations of musical utterance, in:Stories . . .Poems . . .Dramas . . . Music intended specifically for danceswhich tell a story or describe a situation; both ancient and modern.” He then goes on giving his views on“The tendency toward an Abstract character, . . .” , but here he does notaddress (unfortunately) the topic of dance. But the first part of the materialseen on p. 9 of Genesis is quiteclear—Partch champions music that supports the corporeality of dance that“. . . tell (s) a story or describe (s) a situation” In this particular view,“corporeality” in terms of dance (and the music that accompanies it) clearlyindicates a clear embracing of dance as illuminating the story or programme ofthe particular work in question, whether the dance style be mime, or some otherstylized story telling tradition. The author of this essay had many personalconversations with Partch on the subject of choreographers and dance interpretation(as have countless others), and Partch made his position emphatically clear onthese occasions—he detested abstract modern dance! And Partch wouldbecome especially unsettled when a choreographer would set one of hisprogrammatic-oriented works to unrelated abstract interpretation. PLECTRAAND PERCUSSION DANCESgenerally, and Castor& Polluxspecifically, is one of these programmatic-oriented, corporeal works, andshould be treated as such by any choreographer or stage director. And thisincludes the musicians and their instruments. Their on-stage presence andappearance should be carefully calculated as to their placement, and eachmusician’s corporeal “attitude” towards not only their instruments, but theaction of the dancers also.
During hislife, one choreographed version of Castor & Pollux, conformingto Partch’s Greek myth programme, was presented by Virginia Storie in 1966 atUCLA, under Partch’s supervision. In this version, the instruments and playerswere placed around the stage with the dancers moving in front, among, and inback of the instruments. The musicians occupied themselves with playing theirparts in dark pants and colored t-shirts, and tried to look “appropriate” whennot playing, contributing no great dramatic impact. Castor& Polluxwas performed similarly by the Shela Xerogos Dance Company in San Francisco in1977, after Partch’s death. In both cases it functioned as a corporealmusic-dance work with the musicians and dancers on-stage, but with themusicians functioning only as musicians and not a part of the choreographicconcept, and with minimal ritual-theater implications overall. In the early1980’s, it occurred to the members of the San Diego Harry Partch Ensemble that Castor& Polluxcould be adapted, or transformed, into a compelling corporeal music-dance workif the resting (tacet) musicians were brought out on the floor to “move/dance”,responding to Partch’s proclamations to indeed do this. As a counterpoint, themoving-dancing musicians were joined by featured dance soloist-choreographerMarta Giacoletti who would intermittently dance among them, and who would thendance each concluding tutti as a soloist, accompanied by all the musicians nowreturned to their instruments. This experiment was zestfully entered into by theSan Diego musicians who attended many choreographic technique and practicesessions with Marta. This production was a major component in the group’s WestCoast Tour of San Diego, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Portland, and Seattle inthe early 1980’s. In view of our present cultural attitude towards thepromotion and protection of specialization in the arts, in league with themissionary zeal of music and dance critics protecting his hallowed ground,certain viewers looked at this performance as lacking polished dance technique.One can imagine the roasting this performance might have received from thejaundiced gaze of a New York dance critic. Yet the experience for those SanDiego Partchians involved, as well as many in the audiences, was one of an ecstaticfreedom from the convention of “tight coats and tight shoes.”
As it stands alive performance of Castor& Polluxcan be staged (with musicians and instruments) in four ways:
1. a concertversion with musicians only
2. performed withmusicians and dancers, but as an abstract dance piece
3. performed withmusicians and dancers, incorporating choreography along the lines of Partch’ssuggestions (as seen in the score)
4. performedalong the lines mentioned in the paragraph above, whereby the tacet (resting)musicians themselves become the dancer/movers, in the way that Partch hadalways wanted his musicians to function as corporeal participants.
Of the aboveperformance possibilities, #2 should be avoided altogether, as it goescompletely against the grain of Partch’s corporeal-theatrical concept. Partchwas never (I repeat—NEVER!) involved with C & P on the levelof #2, and he was (as previously stated) absolutely against the use of abstractmodern dance in any of his music. #3 is understandably technically andartistically troublesome, but it is still the programme that Partch implied inthe score. Partch participated in performances of C & P according to#1 more than once, and #4, to the author, is somewhat intriguing.
Choreographerswho amicably collaborated with Partch (before or after his death) should besingled out for their willingness to knuckle under the demands of his danceconcepts. Partch’s first dance collaborator was Edith Wiener in the MillsCollege production of Oedipus. Following this, the two different productions ofTheBewitched(1957 & 1959) at the University of Illinois were a total disaster, in termsof dance, in Partch’s eyes. Subsequent choreography in Revelationin the Courthouse Parkand Water!Water!by Illinois faculty member Gene Cutler were quite successful. Under Partch’seyes, Virginia Storie effectively choreographed Castor & Pollux and Delusionof the Furyat UCLA. Also under Partch’s supervision, Susan Long mounted a version of Daphne of theDunesat UCSD. After Partch’s death in 1974, Danlee Mitchell guided choreographersJohanna Weikel in TheBewitched(1975), Mary Lou Blankenburg in The Bewitched (1980, heardon Enclosure5),and Marta Giacoletti in Castor& Polluxand Daphneof the Dunes.In 1987, New York choreographer George Faison fashioned the dances in theAmerican Music Theater production of Revelation in the CourthousePark.
Partch’sattitude toward dance was singular (choreographers beware!). He detestedabstract modern dance—period! In his dance-theater works he specificallycalls for: 1) a story line (Castor & Pollux); 2)mime-impressionism (TheBewitched);or, 3) pure mime (Delusionof the Fury).An abstract modern-dance version of Castor & Pollux (or P & PDances)would have him turning in his grave (no matter what the objections of achoreographer might be). Such disagreements drove Partch to imbibe an extramint julep or two during his late afternoon reflective periods. Strangelyenough, Partch did like classical ballet for both its story-line aspect, andthe discipline of the more abstract corps de ballet, but this genre was neverapplied to his dance works during his lifetime.
It is a humantrait that people often can express what they do not like after the fact, butare less able to communicate what they want before the fact. In terms of dance,this was Partch’s modus operandi. In relation to dance, he gives little interms of specific instructions, but upon seeing the implementation, he couldcomment with intensity. My best advice for a choreographer would be to read,and reread, Genesis, p. 9,beginning “The peoples of history . . . “.
In the early1950’s Martha Graham committed to doing a work of Partch’s (possibly C &P,or a new work to be written especially for her company), and he was to go toNew York City with his instruments to begin collaboration/rehearsals. At thelast moment (with his instruments all packed up and ready to be shipped fromSan Francisco) she backed out, leaving Partch devastated, and stranded. Hadthis collaboration actually transpired, Partch’s life at the time, andsubsequently, might have changed radically. His attitude towards abstract (orless abstract, as was Graham’s case) modern dance might have developeddifferently. For more information on this subject, see HarryPartchby Bob Gilmore, Yale University Press, or Philip Blackburn’s Enclosure3.
–Essay by Danlee Mitchell / May, 2001-May 2007
(withconsiderable assistance from Jon Szanto, Curator, Harry Partch Archive: SanDiego)
Thanks toDanlee Michell, Jon Szanto, Kash Yamada, Madeline Tourtelot,
KPBS-TV, andBetty Freeman.
Also to JohnSchneider, Liz Hoefner, Giovanni Di Simone.
Funded in partby a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.
Innova issupported by an endowment from the McKnight Foundation.
PrestonWright: video and audio restoration
PhilipBlackburn: innova director, series producer, design
ChrisCampbell: operations manager, DVD mastering
The Tourtelotfilms appeared in Enclosure1(VHS); KEBS film appeared on Enclosure 4 (VHS).
Also in thisseries:
Enclosure2: 4 CD set. Historic Speech-Music from the Partch archives.
Enclosure5: 3 CD set. On an Ancient Greek theme
Enclosure6: CD. Delusion of the Fury
Enclosure7: DVD. The Dreamer That Remains