Greek Myths and Microtonal Instruments: Harry Partch’s Oedipus

by Maggie Molloy

We all know the ancient Greek myth of Oedipus, the cursed king who slept with his mother—but you’ve probably never heard it told on hand-crafted, rainbow-colored microtonal instruments before.

All photos by Maggie Molloy.

That opportunity comes this weekend with a rare staging of Harry Partch’s avant-garde theatrical extravaganza Oedipus: A Music Theater Drama. The performances, which run May 5-7, are presented through the Harry Partch Instrumentarium currently in residence at the University of Washington.

A pioneer of new music, Partch was one of the first 20th century composers to work extensively with microtonal scales, creating dozens of incredible instruments specifically for the performance of his musical texts and corporeal theatre works. The Instrumentarium houses over 50 of his rare instruments, each hand-crafted out of wood and strings, gongs and glass, gizmos and gadgets.

Chuck Corey, Director of the Instrumentarium.

Directed and curated by Chuck Corey, the Harry Partch Instrumentarium puts on a handful of performances each year—but this spring marks the first time Corey and his microtonal music troupe are staging one of Partch’s full-fledged, evening-length theatrical works.

“I have had the opportunity to work with Partch’s instruments for nearly half my life, and am still amazed by some of the sounds he creates in his music,” Corey said. “Partch is best known for his just-intoned tuning system and the instruments he invented, but if he were not also a great composer I don’t think his work would have gained much of a following. For me, it is rewarding to perform his music and solve the problems his instruments present, and I remain impressed by his distinctive musical language.”

Based on Sophocles’ original Greek tragedy, Partch’s Oedipus is not quite a play and not quite an opera: the story unfolds through a combination of speech and song, augmented by the exotic harmonies of Partch’s notorious 43-tone scale.

“The voice can be used in a variety of ways in Partch’s work,” Corey said. “He often calls for intoning voice (words spoken on precise pitches), and in the case of Oedipus, we will cover the full range between speaking and singing. There are many passages in Oedipus where each character is at a different point on this spectrum.”

Oedipus floats freely in and out of Partch’s microtonal musical world, shifting between spoken monologues and hypnotizing musical settings, dramatic movement and dance. Partch’s orchestra of oddities is percussive, haunting, and hypnotic—almost ritualistic in its depth and drama.

In fact, Partch designed his instruments to be corporeal; he sought to involve the whole body and the entire person in the art. The result, for audience and performer alike, is a deeply immersive experience that brings together music, sculpture, dance, and drama in a fascinating culmination of Partch’s iconoclastic ethos.

To learn more about the magical and mysterious musical inventions of Harry Partch, take our photo tour below:

Diamond Marimba - Photo by Maggie MolloyDiamond Marimba:
This instrument is a physical manifestation of one of Partch’s most crucial theoretical concepts: the “tonality diamond.” Built in 1946, the instrument contains all twelve of Partch’s primary tonalities, each laid out in a series of thirds. It’s used as a prominent percussion instrument in many of his works.


Gourd Tree - Photo by Maggie MolloyGourd Tree: Built in 1964, the Gourd Tree is comprised of twelve temple bells attached to gourd resonators, each of which hangs suspended from a eucalyptus branch. Yes, a eucalyptus branch. The instrument is often played in conjunction with Partch’s Cone Gongs, which are made out of nose cones from airplane fuel tanks.


Cloud-Chamber Bowls - Photo by Maggie MolloyCloud-Chamber Bowls: Partch’s most iconic instrument, the Cloud-Chamber Bowls are made up of large glass gongs of varying sizes suspended in a wooden frame and played with mallets. Partch initially created the instrument in 1950 using Pyrex carboys discarded by the Radiation Laboratory at the University of California, Berkeley.


Chromelodeon - Photo by Maggie MolloyChromelodeon: The colorful Chromelodeon, built in 1945, is an adapted reed organ modified to conform to Partch’s tonality system. The instrument plays a 43-tone per octave scale, as opposed to a typical Western keyboard, which plays 12 tones per octave. In addition to a standard keyboard and a collection of stops, the Chromelodeon also includes an additional keyboard of Partch’s own creation called the “sub-bass,” located in the upper left corner of the instrument. Both keyboards have colored and numbered labels representing ratios of the tuning system. Oh, and also: the player has to furiously pump two foot pedals throughout the entire performance in order fill the organ’s bellows and create sound.


Kithara II - by Maggie MolloyKithara II: Towering at nearly seven feet tall, the Kithara II requires the performer to stand on a riser in order to play it. Built in 1954, the instrument has twelve sets of six strings which correspond to Partch’s primary tonalities; four of these sets employ Pyrex rods as movable bridges. The Kithara II is also Chuck’s personal favorite instrument in the collection.


Surrogate Kithara - Photo by Maggie MolloySurrogate Kithara: As the name suggests, the Surrogate Kithara was originally invented as a substitute for Partch’s original Kithara, and was created when he began writing music for the instrument that was too difficult for one person to play. The Surrogate Kithara features two sets of eight strings, each with a Pyrex rod that serves as a movable bridge.


Bamboo Marimba II - Photo by Maggie MolloyBamboo Marimba II (Boo II): Affectionately dubbed “Boo II,” the Bamboo Marimba II (built in 1971) consists of 64 tubes of mottled Japanese bamboo organized into six ranks. Each tube is open on both ends, and tongues are cut into the bamboo at approximately 1/6 of the length of the tube in order to produce a harmonic at 6/5 of the fundamental pitch.


Bass Marimba - Photo by Maggie MolloyBass Marimba: Built in 1950, the Bass Marimba features 11 bars made of Sitka spruce. Just to give you an idea of the massive size of this instrument, the top of the bars are five feet above the floor, and the player must stand on a riser six feet wide and over two feet tall in order to play it.  Each bar is situated over an organ pipe which serves as a resonator, and the lowest bar corresponds to a C2 on piano which, for those of you who don’t play piano, is pretty darn low. The instrument can be played with mallets or by slapping the bars with the pads of your fingers.


The Spoils of War - Photo by Maggie MolloyThe Spoils of War: Created in 1950, this instrument takes its name from the seven artillery casings that hang from the top of the instrument. The instrument also includes four Cloud-Chamber Bowls, two pieces of tongued bamboo, one woodblock, three steel “whang guns,” and a guiro. Just think of it as a Harry Partch drum-set of sorts.


New Harmonic Canon I - Photo by Maggie MolloyNew Harmonic Canon I: Built in 1945, the New Harmonic Canon I is a 44-stringed instrument with a complex systems of bridges. It was built specifically to accommodate a second tuning, allowing the performer to play in either one or both of the different tunings simultaneously. The strings are tuned differently depending on the piece, and are played with fingers, picks, or in some cases, mallets.


Harmonic Canon II - Photo by Maggie MolloyHarmonic Canon II: Nicknamed the “Castor and Pollux,” the Harmonic Canon II (built in 1953) features two resonating boxes with 44 strings across the top. Bridges are placed beneath the strings specifically for the tuning of each composition. Like all of Patch’s Harmonic Canons, the instrument may be played with fingers, picks, or mallets.


Adapted Guitar II - Photo by Maggie MolloyAdapted Guitar II: The ten-string Adapted Guitar II is a steel-string guitar which is played with a slide. Partch first began experimenting with adapted guitars in the 1930s, and by 1945 he began using amplification for them. The ten strings of the Adapted Guitar II are typically tuned either to Partch’s “otonality” or “utonality” (terms Partch used to describe chords whose pitch classes are the harmonics or subharmonics of a given fixed tone). Thankfully, the headstock is specially designed to allow the player to change the tuning within seconds.


Performances of Oedipus: A Music Theater Drama are Friday, May 5 and Saturday, May 6 at 7:30pm and Sunday, May 7 at 2pm at the University of Washington’s Meany Theater. For tickets and additional information, please click here.

New Composed Music: May 2017 Seattle * Eastside * Tacoma

SI_button2Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

thvLYmNB

Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and be sure to tag it with “new music.”


Program Insert - May 2017

Racer Sessions
A weekly showcase of original music with a jam session based on the concepts in the opening presentation.
Every Sunday, 8-10pm, Cafe Racer | FREE

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electronic/electroacoustic music, & more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Eighth Blackbird with Will Oldham (Bonnie “Prince” Billy)
Will Oldham joins Eighth Blackbird for half the program with original songs and Frederic Rzewski’s Coming Together. The program also includes Bryce Dessner’s Murder Ballades, and David Lang’s Learn to Fly.
Thursday, 5/4, 7:30pm, The Neptune Theatre | $33.50

Harry Partch’s Oedipus: A Musical Theater Drama
The UW School of Music presents the rarely performed Oedipus by Harry Partch after the play by Sophocles. This performance is a “multi-genre theatrical work” featuring a unique collection of Harry Partch’s handmade instruments currently in residence at UW.
Friday, 5/5, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10-$20
Saturday, 5/6, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10-$20
Sunday, 5/7, 2:00pm, Meany Theater | $10-$20

Seattle Classical Guitar Society Presents Antigoni Goni
Award winning guitarist and renowned pedagogue Antigoni Goni performs a solo recital including music by contemporary Greek composers and others.
Saturday, 5/6, 7:30pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall, Benaroya Hall | $38

Angelo Rondello: Music of Our Sister Cities
Seattle Music Exchange Project presents pianist Angelo Rondello.  The program includes music of Seattle’s sister cities in Italy, Japan, Hungary, and Norway.
Thursday, May 11, 7:30pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall, Benaroya Hall | $20-$42

Seattle Symphony: Celebrate Asia
Seattle Symphony is joined by Indian composer, producer, and performer A. R. Rahman is their ninth annual celebration of the musical traditions of Asia, focusing this year on India and Japan.
Friday, 5/12, 7:00pm, Mark S. Taper Auditorium, Benaroya Hall | $40-$105

DXARTS: Music of Today
The UW School of Music and The Center for Digital Arts and Experimental Media (DXARTS) present a concert of audio and video by current DXARTS students and alumni.
Friday, 5/12, 7:30pm, Meany Theater | $10-$15

Gamelan Pacifica: Lou Harrison at 100 Years
Celebrate the centenary of Lou harrison with a rare opportunity to experience his music for gamelan and percussion live.
Saturday 5/13, 8:00pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Seattle Rock Orchestra Performs The Beatles
In a Seattle Mother’s Day tradition, Seattle Rock Orchestra performs the Beatles.  Bring your mom.
Saturday, 5/13, 8:00pm, Moore Theatre | $25
Sunday, 5/14, 2:00pm, Moore Theatre | $25

Nat Evans’s Vertical Saxophone Aura Readings at Seattle Art Museum
Nat Evans presents an interactive work for saxophonists on escalators. Two saxophone players serve as personal sound escorts to museum patrons on the escalators leading up to the Seeing Nature exhibition.
Thursday, 5/18, 7:00pm, Seattle Art Museum | free-$20

Ecco Chamber Ensemble: Enough is Enough
Ecco ends their inaugural season with music that protests modern violence and points toward peace, including a premiere by Seattle composer Sarah Bassingthwaighte.
Saturday, May 20, 2:00pm, St. John United Lutheran Church, | $15

Seattle Metropolitan Chamber Orchestra: SPARK.1
This Capitol Hill performance marks the first event in SMCO’s genre-bending SPARK series.  Live SMCO musicians are joined by local DJ Suttikeeree and the Skylark Horn Quartet.
Saturday, May 20, 8:00pm, Fred Wildlife Refuge (21+) | $25

LIVE BROADCAST: PROJECT Trio Plays Peter and the Wolf, Brooklyn-Style

by Maggie Molloy

You may have heard Prokofiev’s symphonic fairy tale Peter and the Wolf, but you have never heard it like this before. Tune in Wednesday at 7:30pm for a Second Inversion live broadcast of PROJECT Trio performing Peter and the Wolf—Brooklyn style.

Comprised of three classically-trained musicians with an ear for eclecticism, PROJECT Trio brings humor, charisma, technical prowess, and clever arrangements to classical repertoire and pop music alike. Expect jazzy basslines, beatboxing flute riffs, and plenty of personality.

For this concert, PROJECT Trio takes the classic tale of Peter and the Wolf out of Russia and into Brooklyn, turning the animals into other kids and the wolf-chase into a parkside showdown.

Catch their performance live this Wednesday at Town Hall as part of Joshua Roman’s Town Music series. And if you can’t make it to the show, tune in to Second Inversion’s live broadcast from anywhere in the world! Download our app or click here to listen to the broadcast online, streaming live on Wednesday, April 19 at 7:30pm PST.

Until then, here’s a sneak peek of the gang performing their rendition of another classical music staple:


PROJECT Trio performs Wednesday, April 19 at 7:30pm at Town Hall. Click here for more information, or click here to tune in to Second Inversion’s live broadcast.

Concert Preview: Orchestra ROCKS On Stage with KING FM

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Jason Tang

Rock out with Second Inversion this weekend at our next On Stage with Classical KING FM concert: a rock ‘n’ roll reprise of the Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet performing with the mesmerizing Tamara Power-Drutis!

Back by popular demand after a rousing concert last season, the band is back to transform popular song into art song, performing a program that reimagines both classic and modern songs as intimate and emotional chamber works born for the recital hall.

So how about a preview? Watch our exclusive videos below of the band performing works last year by Radiohead, Beck, and Jeremy Enigk:

Radiohead (arr. Scott Teske): Nude 

Beck (arr. Bischoff/Teske): Do We? We Do.

Jeremy Enigk (arr. Scott Teske): Ballroom

Plus, listen to the rest of last year’s setlist on-demand below:


Second Inversion presents the Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet with Tamara Power-Drutis this Saturday, April 15 at 7:30pm at Resonance at SOMA Towers in Bellevue. Click here for tickets.

New Composed Music: April 2017 Seattle * Eastside * Tacoma

SI_button2Second Inversion and the Live Music Project create a monthly calendar featuring contemporary classical, cross-genre, and experimental performances in Seattle, the Eastside, Tacoma, and places in between! 

thvLYmNB

Keep an eye out for our this flyer in concert programs and coffee shops around town. Feel free to download, print, and distribute it yourself! If you’d like to be included on this list, submit your event to the Live Music Project at least 6 weeks prior to the event and be sure to tag it with “new music.”


Program Insert - April 2017 - 2column with footer - darker100

Racer Sessions
A weekly showcase of original music with a jam session based on the concepts in the opening presentation.
Every Sunday, 8-10pm, Cafe Racer | FREE

Wayward Music Series
Concerts of contemporary composition, free improvisation, electronic/electroacoustic music, & more.
Various days, 7:30/8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15
waywardmusic.org (check website for complete listings)

Northwest Sinfonietta: Art for Art’s Sake
This multidisciplinary program features collaborations with Museum of Glass, Dale Chihuly, and Spectrum Dance Theater and a world premiere by Heather Bentley.
Fri, 3/31, 7:30pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $21.50-$36.50
Sat, 4/1, 7:30pm, Rialto Theatre, Tacoma | $15-$25
Sun, 4/2, 2pm, Pioneer Park Pavilion, Puyallup | $37

Seattle Collaborative Orchestra: Higdon’s Violin Concerto
SCO presents a feast of new music, including a world premiere by Andy Clausen and Jennifer Higdon’s violin concerto performed by Maria Larionoff.
Tues, 4/4, 7:30pm, Roosevelt High School Auditorium | $10-$20 (students under 18 FREE)

The Esoterics: Intimas: Cultivating community
The Esoterics will present three works on the theme of intimacy by Christopher Theofanidis, Aaron Jay Kernis, and Eric Banks.
Fri, 4/7, 8pm, St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church | $15-$22
Sat, 4/8, 8pm, Holy Rosary Catholic Church | $15-$22
Sun, 4/9, 7pm, Christ Episcopal Church, Tacoma | $15-$22

Coming Together
Bohemia meets punk rock in a night of music for realists and idealists featuring works by Louis Andriessen, James Tenney, and Frederic Rzewski.
Sat, 4/8, 8pm, On the Boards | $20

NOCCO: The Silken Ladder
New meets old on this program featuring Rossini & Haydn alongside a world premiere by NOCCO’s principal clarinetist and composer, Sean Osborn.
Sat, 4/8, 2pm, University Christian Church | $15-$25 (under 18 FREE)
Sun, 4/9, 7:30pm, Royal Room | $15-$25 (under 18 FREE)

Live Music Project: The Astronaut, the Electric Theorbo, and the Plan that Wasn’t
Aaron Grad takes the stage with six beers, fourteen strings, and no idea what he’s going to play. Taste along with Aaron as each Naked City brew launches a fresh improvisation on his trusty electric theorbo, an instrument he designed and built himself (with inspiration from an oversized lute).
Tues, 4/11, 6:30pm, Naked City Brewery | $15

Emerald City Music: Without Words
The best of opera, without words. This program features music composed for and inspired by operatic masterworks from Mozart to David Schiff.
Fri, 4/14, 8pm, MadArt Gallery | $45
Sat, 4/15, 7:30pm, Washington PAC, Olympia | $10-$43

Inverted Space: Jeff Bowen
Inverted Space presents a newly composed Long Piece by Inverted Space co-director Jeff Bowen.
Sat, 4/15, 8pm, Good Shepherd Chapel | $5-$15

Seattle Rock Orchestra Quintet feat. Tamara Power-Drutis
The SRO Quintet and Tamara Power-Drutis transform popular song into art song, performing a program that reimagines both classic and modern songs. Presented by KING FM/Second Inversion.
Sat, 4/15, Resonance at SOMA Towers, Bellevue | $20

Live @ Benaroya Hall: Jóhann Jóhansson & ACME
Joined by the American Contemporary Music Ensemble, this program by Jóhann Jóhansson explores and unifies natural acoustic sounds and electronics.
Thurs, 4/20, 7:30pm, Nordstrom Recital Hall | $30-40

Seattle Symphony: [untitled] 3
Enter the twisted worlds of two of America’s most confounding cultural icons. The ironic wisdom of Andy Warhol meets the wild, whirling personality of Thelonious Monk.
Fri, 4/28, 10pm, Benaroya Hall | $16

Music to Dream By: An Evening with Erin Jorgensen and Cristina Valdés

by Maggie Molloy

Photo by Dave Lichterman.

You’ll find Seattle artist Erin Jorgensen right on the corner of waking and dreaming life, floating above her five-octave marimba and whispering elusive melodies amidst a cloud of sleepy radio snippets and atmospheric static.

Or at least, that’s where you’ll find her this weekend. The Universal Language Project is proud to present Undertones: a concert experience that invites you to dream. The performances, which take place this Friday and Saturday, feature a rare collaboration between Jorgensen and pianist Cristina Valdés, one of today’s foremost interpreters of contemporary music.

Photo by James Holt.

Curated by Seattle new music luminary James Holt, the concert is based on Jorgensen’s weekly podcast series of the same name, which is perhaps best used as a soundtrack for dreaming, staring out the window, or receiving outer space transmissions. The music blends together marimba melodies, improvisation, spoken word, radio scraps, found sounds, and anything else that happens to float through Jorgensen’s dreaming or waking life that week.

“The podcast’s only specificity is its relation to what is happening in my life at the moment,” Jorgensen said. “I often use snippets of things I am obsessed with on the internet, or things I happen to hear on the radio, or musical improvisations I come up with that day or week or right in the moment of recording. It might sound like a slowly drifting change of radio stations or the randomly associated thoughts and patterns that drift through one’s mind as they stare out a window or are in a state between sleep and wakefulness.”

Photo by James Holt.

The atmospheric podcast, which Jorgensen began about a year and a half ago, caught hold of Holt’s ear—and when Common Tone Arts asked him to curate a performance on their Universal Language Project series, all of the pieces came together.

“Erin Jorgensen is one of the most inspiring musicians I know, a longtime friend, and someone with a wholly unique musical voice,” Holt said. “The mix of live performance, improvisation, spoken word, and creatively mixed sound design really blew me away—and when I saw that she could do all of this live, kind of like a one-woman-band, I wanted more people to experience it.”

Jorgensen and Holt worked together to integrate these nebulous musical musings with additional solo piano music by three other composers. The result is an evening of music which seamlessly drifts between (and beyond) Jorgensen’s surreal musical subconscious and Valdés’s ethereal piano performances.

“I love the atmosphere that Erin sets up in her podcasts,” Valdés said, “Where the listener feels almost as if they’re having an out of body experience and is able to see and hear things both close up and from afar.”

Photo by James Holt.

At this weekend’s concerts, Valdés will become a part of that musical atmosphere with her performances of Ryan Brown’s softly twinkling “Ceramics,” Madeleine Cocolas’s interstellar “Static” and “If You Hear Me, I Hear You Back,” and two piano miniatures from Whitney George’s somber Extinction Series, which is comprised of musical obituaries for extinct animals. Though wide-ranging in their musical inspirations, each work connects back with Jorgensen’s original podcasts through a larger musical stream of consciousness.

“Erin has a gift for creating musical worlds that encourage you to retreat into your mind and contemplate ideas, think about the world around you, and ponder why we do and say the things we do and say,” Holt said. “The audience can expect the opportunity to do that during these performances. It will be something beautiful and it will be something you surely haven’t experienced before, but will want to experience again.”

Of course, Jorgensen’s music presents an opportunity to not only look inward, but also far beyond ourselves—to quietly dream into distant galaxies and imagine the space between the stars.

Photo by James Holt.

“‘Outer space’ in this context is more of a poetic metaphor for me,” Jorgensen said. “I like the idea of floating in space or the idea of the undiscovered space around us—“us” being individual humans or the entirety of planet earth.”

Though as Jorgensen points out, humans can’t actually hear anything in outer space, at least not in our traditional understanding of sound.

“I think the actual music of outer space would sound like something humans aren’t able to comprehend yet,” Jorgensen said. “For me personally, outer space music could be tuning in to all the different sounds and thoughts that are happening all over the universe, just for a second.”


Performances of Undertones are this Friday, March 31 at 8pm at Resonance at SOMA Towers and this Saturday, April 1 at 8pm at the Alhadeff Studio at the Cornish Playhouse. For tickets and more information, please click here.

TICKET GIVEAWAY: Gabriel Kahane at the Triple Door

We are giving away a pair of tickets to see Gabriel Kahane at the Triple Door on Wednesday, March 8 at 7:30pm!

gabrielkeventTo enter, click here to send an e-mail to the Second Inversion team and fill in the blank in the subject line (“New Music is ________”). Deadline is Sunday, March 5 at 11:59pm.

More about the show and Gabriel Kahane:

Wednesday, March 8, join us at The Triple Door as we co-present Gabriel Kahane for a journey of art songs through the ages, from Schumann’s Dichterliebe to Kahane’s Craigslistlieder as well as other original works from this composer, song-writer, and multi-instrumentalist extraordinaire. Tickets are on sale now!

A Brooklyn-based pianist, and composer; singer/songwriter, Gabriel Kahane is a musical polymath equally at home in classical, theater, jazz, and indie pop settings. He has written large-scale orchestral works, piano sonatas, string quartets, and song cycles. He has collaborated with everyone from Elvis Costello and Rufus Wainwright to the Kronos Quartet, and Los Angeles Philharmonic.

A trip down memory lane…live in our studios, from Kahane’s last visit to Seattle with Brooklyn Rider:

See you there!