Genesis of a Music: An Account of a Creative Work, Its Roots, and Its Fulfillments
Among the few truly experimental composers in our cultural history, Harry Partch's life (1901–1974) and music embody most completely the quintessential American rootlessness, isolation, pre-civilized cult of experience, and dichotomy of practical invention and transcendental visions. Having lived mostly in the remote deserts of Arizona and New Mexico with no access to formal training, Partch naturally created theatrical ritualistic works incorporating Indian chants, Japanese kabuki and Noh, Polynesian microtones, Balinese gamelan, Greek tragedy, dance, mime, and sardonic commentary on Hollywood and commercial pop music of modern civilization. First published in 1949, Genesis of a Music is the manifesto of Partch's radical compositional practice and instruments (which owe nothing to the 300-year-old European tradition of Western music.) He contrasts Abstract and Corporeal music, proclaiming the latter as the vital, emotionally tactile form derived from the spoken word (like Greek, Chinese, Arabic, and Indian musics) and surveys the history of world music at length from this perspective. Parts II, III, and IV explain Partch's theories of scales, intonation, and instrument construction with copious acoustical and mathematical documentation. Anyone with a musically creative attitude, whether or not familiar with traditional music theory, will find this book revelatory.
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This is a seminal book on Partch's music and his use of an extended just intonation system that contains 43 notes per octave. Partch is the grandfather of the microtonal music scene in America. Some find the technical aspects of the book daunting, but one can skim over the mathematics and still come away with a greater appreciation for Partch's accomplishment as a composer and instrument builder. For those who are numerate this book provides some important basics about the use of extended just intonation, as well as pithy discussions of the history of musical tunings. Every creative musician who is interested in microtonality or instrument design should read this book.