Instruments by Harry Partch

1960s: Days of Rage


“The American composer Harry Partch (1901-1974) composed using scales of unequal intervals in just intonation, derived from the natural Harmonic series; these scales allowed for more tones of smaller intervals than in the standard Western tuning, which uses twelve equal intervals. One of Partch’s scales has 43 tones to the octave. To play this music, he built many unique instruments, with names such as the Chromelodeon, the Quadrangularis Reversum, and the Zymo-Xyl. Partch called himself ‘a philosophic music-man seduced into carpentry’. The path towards Partch’s use of many unique instruments was a gradual one. Partch began in the 1920s using traditional instruments, and wrote a string quartet in just intonation (now lost). He had his first specialized instrument built for him in 1930—the Adapted Viola, a viola with a cello’s neck fitted on it. He re-tuned the reeds of several reed organs and labeled the keys…

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