Tuesday, 6 November 2012

Top 102 Albums. No 101 The Wayward - Harry Partch

Album No. 101 - Harry Partch - The Wayward

One of the pleasures of music has always been the way one discovery leads to another. And some discoveries are harder to make. It was probably fifteen or twenty years after first reading about Harry Partch in a Tom Waits interview that I finally got to hear him. These days that sort of time span is unimaginable as typing a word into Google will lead you down the most obscure musical pathways. And perhaps, had Partch been in a Youtube clip then I might never have pursued him any further, nor given his music time to infiltrate my mind. I'm glad I did, and glad for the impetus given by the years of waiting.

Various Partch instruments from
For Partch wasn't just hard to get your hands on. He's not the most immediately accessible artist. He grew frustrated with the 'rules' of making music; the harmonic scale; the ability to reflect human speech in music made using these rules. So using his knowledge of eastern and ancient music, he devised his own scales and finally, built the instruments on which to perform these works. As much mechanical menagerie as orchestra, performances of Partch's work (not that I've been to one!) must be as notable for the jaw dropping instruments as for the music. 

The music, though, repays repeat listens and, to get back to Waits, clearly provided the impetus which turned the gin soaked jazz boy into the ferocious experimenter of his latter years. Indeed the title of his pivotal album, Swordfishtrombones could be seen as a description of one of Partch's instruments.

Harry Partch (image from http://leblogdesovena.com)
The title I've picked, The Wayward, is a musical train journey on which we ride the rails with a collection of hobos and guards. Partch used the intonation and pitch of the spoken word rather than singing. 

I find this a very compelling suite of works and listen to it regularly, but still almost feel that I have to retune my mind to hear it properly. 

Don't expect to hear it on morning radio or down at the disco. Do expect to be rewarded for keeping an open mind.

Here is U.S. Highball.


  1. I've never heard of Partch before Seamus; I can definitely hear later Waits in the rattling, percussive dissonance and oddly placed vocal intrusions...
    Caught myself singing 'Leaving Sacremento... going East mister' in Tesco's this pm... something's connected...

    1. Nice to be able to introduce someone of your aural erudition to someone new. There can't be too many people singing Partch in Tescos at any one time!