MTH-V: ICTUS & Partch

This week’s video serves as a prelude to a longer post I’ll publish later this week about new music in general, specifically that of Harry Partch (1901-1974).

Last summer I had the immense pleasure of attending the Austrian premiere of Partch’s landmark cycle The Wayward by Belgian contemporary music ensemble ICTUS in Bregenz, Austria. Partch is a perfect example of Twentieth Century musical tendencies: experimental, nationalistic, controversial. I’ll discuss more in a later post, but for context on the below video, know that one of Partch’s trademarks is his inventing of his own microtonal system (i.e., there is a lot of dissonance). Beyond that, he also constructed his own instruments to properly articulate this new language. Lacking Partch’s invented instruments (they are closely guarded by Partch’s disciples in the US), ICTUS instead opts for prepared – or otherwise manipulated – Western instruments. (Here, various string and keyboard instruments are featured along with voice.)

Two portions of The Wayward are featured here: “The Letter” and “Barstow,” respectively. Although this definitely falls under “contemporary music,” it has as much to do with Americana as it does the new music canon. (Think equal parts Tom Waits and Pierre Boulez.) As I’ll reiterate later, keep in mind that this music is seventy years old – it was written before most of you were born. As with most things, keep an open mind…

Harry Partch’s The Wayward: “The Letter” (1943) & “Barstow” (1941/54/67)

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