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Harry PARTCH (1901-1974)
Enclosure 7

Film: The Dreamer that Remains: A Portrait of Harry Partch (1972, rev. 2005) [28:08]
Stephen Pouliot (director); Betty Freeman (producer); John Monsour, William Crain (cameramen); Danlee Mitchell (musical director); Mark Hoffman (sound recordist); James Aitkenhead (assistant to Partch); Jack Logan (conductor); Harry Partch, Mark Hoffman, Danlee Mitchell, Katherine Bjornson, Alexis Glatly, Michael Crosier, Ron Caruso, David Dunn, Dennis Dunn, Jonathan Glasier, Jean-Charles Francois, Randy Hoffman, Emil Richards, Jon Szanto, Duane Thomas, Francis Thumm (musicians). Edited for Innova by Philip Blackburn and Chris Campbell.
Film: Delusion of the Fury: A Ritual of Dream and Delusion (1969) [72:07]
Bill Symons jr., Gary Coleman, Linda Schell, Emil Richards, Todd Miller, Ruth Ritchie, Frank Berberich, Mark Stevens, Michael Aaron, Robert Rose, Lynn Tausig, Dean Drummond, Stephen Tosh, Robert McCormick, Carol Brown, Nathan Widato, Joe Roccisano, Robert Randles, Latif Allen, John McAllister, John Grayson, John Stannard (performers); John Stannard (tenor voice); Victoria Bond (soprano); Paul Bergen (bass); John Blount (Pilgrim/The Slayer, Deaf Hobo); Susan Marshall (Son of the Slain, Old Woman with Lamb); Glendon Hornbrook (Ghost/The Slain, Deaf and Near-sighted Justice); Danlee Mitchell (musical director); John Crawford (director); Virginia Storie Crawford (choreographer); Madeline Tourtelot (film producer and director); Jack Robinette, John Morrill, Jack Lord, Madeline Tourtelot (cameramen); Madeline Tourtelot, Les Blank (editors); Ted Tourtelot (stills photographer); Takashi Yamada, Harry Partch, Linda Schell (assistants); Cecil Charles Spiller (sound recording).
Digital transfer from 16 mm. Film courtesy of Danlee Mitchell and Jon Szanto.
Soundtrack remastered in 5.1 surround sound by Preston Wright, re-synched by Chris Campbell.
Bonus Album Slideshow: The Instruments of Harry Partch (1969) [43:57]
Harry Partch (voice); Danlee Mitchell, Linda Schell (musicians).
Recorded 1969 by Danlee Mitchell; digital transfer by Jon Szanto.
Slideshow by Philip Blackburn.
“Dreamer” – Director Stephen Pouliot’s commentary (2006) [18:02 – 28:08 (see text)]
“Dreamer” out-take – Making Rose Petal Jam (1972) [2:00]
Harry Partch (“chef”)
Chris Campbell (video restoration)
Film: Revelation in the Courthouse Park – excerpts (1960) [6:51]
John Garvey (conductor); Barnard Hewitt (producer); George Talbot (designer and technical supervisor); Jeffrey Foote (Sonny, Pentheus); Freda Pierce (Mom, Agave);John Bert (Dion, Dionysius), Joel Klein (Herdsman); Coryl Crandall (Cadmus); Elizabeth Hiller (Korypheus)
Filmed by Madeline Tourtelot, 9 April 1961, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Video transfer courtesy of Harry Partch Estate Archive.
DVD (5:4 aspect ratio) NTSC, all regions
INNOVA 407 [171:05]


“Oh, ‘eck,” I thought, “This has turned out to be another of my extensive ‘essays’!” Of course I hope that you will find it interesting, but if all you really want is the bottom line then scroll down to the third paragraph from the bottom: there you will find a suitably succinct summing up. If, on the other hand, you want further background information, you can access other “essays” by  clicking on the “review” links! There’s also a general introduction to Harry Partch here. 

They do say, “Everything comes to he who waits,” but have you ever pondered its meaning? Somehow, the more I think about it, the less sense it makes. Logically, it’s about as watertight as a colander. Nevertheless, there are two reasons I’m going along with it, for the time being at least. Firstly, in my review of Enclosure 4 I said, mainly in the interests of the security of the media, “I sincerely hope that Innova are actively pursuing the transfer of these films, and those of Enclosure 1, onto DVD.” Secondly, my review of Enclosure 6 mentioned a “bonus album” supposedly included in the original LP boxed sets. This recording, of Partch introducing the sounds of his instruments, vividly complemented the comprehensive booklet illustrations.

I say “supposedly” because it wasn’t always there – in particular, someone had developed an annoying habit of leaving the bonus album out of export sets. Consequently, many Partch fans, myself included, were left feeling – shall we say? – somewhat robbed blind. Innova’s securing of the rights to issue Delusion on CD raised hopes that the bonus album would hitch a ride. Fat chance. Sony, bless their cotton socks, quickly put the mockers on that one, and Innova’s hopes - for a 2-CD Enclosure 6 including a resurrected bonus album – were dashed.

Now, along comes Enclosure 7, the final instalment of Innova’s invaluable publication of Partch archival material - the single stone which, if it doesn’t kill, then at least it mildly inconveniences my two birds, and in passing demonstrates beyond reasonable doubt that “some things come to he who waits”. Tourtelot’s treasurable film of Delusion has been safely secured onto DVD and – wonder of wonders! - the bonus album appears to have been liberated from its dungeon. However, albeit for differing reasons, neither is quite what it seems! So, let’s deal with these major “reissues” first.

As I’ve already given the low-down on the artistic side of the Delusion film in my Enclosure 4 review, here I’ll just pick up on the differences made by the re-mastering onto DVD. Enclosure 4 contains a straight transfer onto VHS of the original film which, by the look of it, was shot on common-or-garden 16 mm. “home movie” stock. To put it mildly, the image quality is hardly what you’d call good – or even “passable” - and the monaural soundtrack is of fairly grotty quality, the two being about as well synchronised as the dubbed dialogue on those old Italian “sword and sandals epics”.

In preparing the DVD edition, Innova’s number one option was to adopt a wholly non-interventionist approach. However, as the nose on your face will reliably inform you, this would have perpetuated those severe technical shortcomings. No doubt historical archivists would have been delighted by this, but I’m not so sure about the rest of us. It’s one thing putting up with all the murk when it’s Hobson’s choice, but another thing entirely when modern technology is dangling tempting remedial carrots before your very eyes.

Innova, presumably mindful of the sensibilities of the majority, took the number two option. They have done an impressive job of cleaning up the visuals, in particular restoring the colours – which, certainly on the Enclosure 4 VHS/PAL tape, were positively pallid - to reasonably realistic intensities. Quite simply, it looks pounds better, and a very considerable improvement over my recommended remedy, for Enclosure 4, of cranking up the telly’s colour control to a level likely to induce oxygen deficiency.

Regarding the sound, Innova could simply have done a proprietary clean-up job on the original soundtrack. Certainly, this would have made it sound a bit less grotty, but it wouldn’t have done a thing for the synchronisation. However, here they had a further option. The day after the film was made, John McClure made an audio recording under studio conditions (see Enclosure 6). Because the tempi and overall playing times remained pretty consistent, it was technically feasible to replace the monaural soundtrack completely by this rich and detailed stereophonic recording.

Artistically, though, this option was somewhat controversial. The arguments pro. and con. are fairly obvious, so suffice it to say that, to the horror of those “historical archivists”, Innova decided to give it a go! In all fairness, it falls a long way short of artistic vandalism – quite the contrary, in fact: it makes a good deal of sense. Think about it: nobody bats an eyelid when old masters are restored, even though some of them are now almost devoid of their old masters’ original paintwork. All right, strictly speaking this option could be construed as a violation of Partch’s corporeal philosophy, but the artistic damage is minimal because the filmed performance turned out to be, in a very real sense, a dress rehearsal for the subsequent audio recording.

Both musicians and vocalists were clearly as hot as the proverbial iron that they were striking. Flushed with success but, presumably, champing at the bit, they took full advantage of the studio conditions and got it as near spot-on as they could possibly manage. In substituting the soundtrack, the only real minus point is a mild feeling of “detachment”, which I put down to the absence of that nigh-on subliminal backdrop of stage noises – the shuffling of actors’ feet and such like - inevitably picked up, to a greater or lesser extent, by microphones at live performances. That’s a loss I can easily tolerate, methinks.

To synchronise the vision with the new “soundtrack”, Innova could of course adjust only the visuals. This was easy enough when the action was slipping behind the music – all it needed was a judicious “snip” at a cut from one camera angle to another. However, it was somewhat trickier when the action was getting its nose in front. In these instances, synchronisation was restored by copying a carefully selected snippet from elsewhere in the film. Philip Blackburn cited one - and perhaps the one and only – really obvious example: “a shot of waves crashing, early on, [is] a copy of what you see later in the Sanctus, but here [it was] used for its ‘abstract’ quality and [to buy] us some time to catch up”.

Of course, there is a limit to how often this can be done before the whole thing is reduced to a patchwork of shreds, and consequently the synchronisation can’t be buttoned down tightly right across the board. To Innova’s immense credit, they’ve struck a beautiful balance: whilst the synchronisation is far more accurate than it was originally, I don’t think anyone apart from the most eagle-eyed is going to notice any significant difference in the visuals.

Innova did tweak the CD audio, but only to synthesise a 5.1 Dolby surround-sound ambience. I’m not equipped for this, so I can’t comment, other than to suggest that if you don’t like synthesised ambiences, you can always switch it off. Other than giving me a feeling that the dynamic range was a bit cramped, the bog-standard DVD stereo sound compares well with that of the superb Enclosure 6 CD.

I’m tempted to say that this is not just a straight re-mastering job: it’s more on the lines of an entirely new edition, invested with a great deal of thoughtful preparation – the one oversight being in the booklet credits, which list “Live Sound Recording: Cecil Charles Spiller”, whose sound you don’t hear, but not John Culshaw, whose sound you do hear. As anyone who possesses a copy of Enclosure 4 will testify, the beholder’s brain is kept constantly busy trying to “filter out” those technical shortcomings.

I must admit, I did feel a twinge of trepidation, that scraping off the cobwebs might have exposed to the bright light of day a whole host of other inherent technical flaws. Happily, my fears were unfounded. In fact, if anything it’s gone entirely the other way – now you can just sit back, relax, and enjoy the show - and rest assured that, to a remarkable degree, it does keep faith with the original film. Of course, you still need to hang on to your Enclosure 4, because it also includes the invaluable 28-minute film, The Music of Harry Partch - the original of which, along with all the others, I am assured is safely tucked away in a carefully-controlled environment. Overall, this new DVD edition is an astounding improvement.

Now for a minor revelation. I might have given the impression that somehow Innova have now managed to screw out of a reluctant Sony permission to release the bonus album. Well, that was a bit naughty of me, because Sony’s vault doors remained firmly shut. Instead, by a sheer stroke of immense good fortune, Philip Blackburn discovered that the bonus album’s original sound recording hadn’t actually been made by Columbia – oh, dear me, no; it turns out that Danlee Mitchell had taped Partch’s commentaries, along with appropriate musical illustrations, and then made his tapes available to Columbia. Sony effectively owned only the copyright to Columbia’s edition of the recording. With appropriate and easily-obtained permission, Philip Blackburn was free to use the one and only, truly original set of tapes!

It soon became obvious that Columbia’s editors had been very busy. Because Partch had spoken very deliberately and with lots of long pauses, they were reasonably justified in taking the scissors to the recorded commentary. With rather less justification, though, they had also butchered the musical illustrations or, sometimes, even replaced them altogether. This latter especially was regrettable, as many of the examples were improvisations by Danlee Mitchell and Linda Schell, and therefore unique. Thus far, I presume that they were just trying to squeeze it onto a single 45-minute LP. However, they then went and did something that was entirely unjustifiable. Without so much as a by-your-leave, they hacked up Partch’s spoken Prologue, extracting material from which they concocted a spoken “Epilogue”. “Voiced over” a percussive crescendo hoicked out of the Delusion recording, this artifice lent the album a feeling of climax that, although rousing, was nonetheless entirely phoney.

Naturally, this gross misrepresentation was not exactly lost on Philip Blackburn. His comparison of the original bonus album with the Mitchell tapes brought it home to him that, really, he wasn’t the least bit interested in replicating the bonus album itself, but in realising Partch’s presentation as originally envisaged. So, he set to and produced a completely new edition of the original commentary, into which were spliced the original audio samples. This time, the only trimming done was purely for the purposes of “pacing”. Finally, to complement this soundtrack, he devised a video slideshow, a completely new sequence of images that drew on the full range of photographs available to him. Ironically, clocking in at a nadge under 44 minutes, Blackburn’s finished soundtrack would have fitted perfectly well onto a single LP!

Does it work? That depends on your expectations. If you’re expecting an audio-visual spectacular even remotely on a par with Raiders of the Lost Ark, then I can guarantee that you will be disappointed. If you’re expecting something on the lines of a leisurely guided tour of Partch’s instrumentarium, with the signal honour of being personally guided by its creator, then you will be over the moon. Mind you, it’s not often that you bump into a virtual curator who starts off with a vitriolic rant about “basic mutilations of ancient concepts”, although this one does at least go on to justify his fervent abhorrence of equal temperament, “operatic” singing and the like. Harry Partch, as the uninitiated will rapidly find out, does little or nothing by halves!

The images, many of which are stunning in their own right, are immaculately cued to the commentary, which sounds considerably clearer and cleaner than my transcript of an admittedly fairly scratchy copy of the Columbia bonus album. Having said that, the Marimba Eroica still sounds somewhat strangulated – although this isn’t surprising, for reasons explained by Partch in his commentary! Philip Blackburn decided, I would say rightly, against slipping in any video clips. However, whereas in the original LP set the illustrations were constrained to one picture of each instrument, this new slideshow goes much further. Not only does it draw on a wide variety of pictures, pulling focus on instrumental details and other matters, but also it neatly mixes “catalogue-style” shots of the instruments with shots of them “in action”.

There is one particularly telling example where, as Partch is discussing the development of his Marimba Eroica, we see pictures of Partch’s original “upright model” - an alarming-looking beast, to say the least. Yet, equally graphic is Partch giving vivid voice to his fantastical dream of an “ideal” Eroica, which for the obvious reason can’t be illustrated. It may be “only” a slideshow, but it is remarkably absorbing and a vast improvement over the old bonus album arrangement. It’s not only a pleasure to see and hear, but also of great educational value, an invaluable “primer” - vaguely akin to a “Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra” - for anyone unfamiliar with Partch’s instruments, and looking to eliminate that “un”.

Right, now let’s look at the “new” stuff. Back in 1971 Stephen Pouliot, a graduate student of Film, attending a quiet dinner party, ended up getting his socks blown off. First of all, he was distracted by the exotic music playing in the background. Next, on being shown the picture on the LP cover, his eyes popped out on stalks. Of course, he became desperate to meet the “astonishing alchemist” responsible for the instruments pictured and the sounds they made (actually, I thought that “alchemists” were essentially con-men, but I think we know what he meant!). It just so happened – as it does in all the best films! – that Betty Freeman was in the room and, well, she just happened to be a long-time friend and immensely generous supporter of that very “alchemist”. Like the Good Fairy, she immediately made Stephen’s dream come true, by offering to introduce him to the Wonderful Wizard. To cut a long story short, Partch and Pouliot got on like a house on fire, and they soon hatched the idea of Pouliot making a movie incorporating a piece by Partch. The ever-generous Betty agreed not only to produce the film, but also to commission from Partch a new work to be incorporated into the venture.

Effectively, A Portrait of Harry Partch is a documentary, which Pouliot slightly enlarged (in 2005) to incorporate a few additional materials made available from the Harry Partch Estate Archive. Although the film incorporates a complete performance of the commissioned work, The Dreamer That Remains, you don’t get it in one lump, but in segments which are inter-cut with documentary scenes. However, on the DVD the performance segments occupy distinct chapters so, if your player permits, you can programme it to replay just the performance. Because some of the joins in the film are faded, the programmed playback will necessarily be a wee bit “dog-eared” - but, as they say, compromise is better than doing without!

The overall picture quality, only a bit on the fuzzy side but with decently-balanced colour, has the “look and feel” of high-quality 16 mm. film. The monaural soundtrack, particularly if you’ve just been wallowing in Culshaw’s luxurious accidental soundtrack for Delusion, is a touch harsh. It tends to operate at just two general levels - “loudish” and “background mushy” – although, having said that, it’s still much easier on the ears than the sound on, say, the earlier Tourtelot films.

The documentary segments divide into three broad categories: “workshop/practice”, “interview”, and “home and garden”. The first captures scenes of Partch the carpenter, working on those exotic, endlessly fascinating sculptures of his, along with scenes of Partch the practical musician and teacher, conjuring endlessly fascinating sounds out of his sculptures, showing his “bandsmen” the ropes, and seeking solutions to practical performance problems. Quite apart from their intrinsic value, these scenes are extremely useful appendices to Partch’s Slideshow discourses.

The second category provides as immediate an experience as we’re going to get of Partch as a person. My teeth grind in frustration to think that, given just a few more years, they would have been able to set up dozens of “fly-on-the-wall” cameras and just let them record for hours on end. Now, wouldn’t that have been a much better use of the technology than any amount of “Big Brother” footage? As it was, Pouliot was presumably constrained by the expensive, non-reusable film medium. Hence, sometimes he had to make do with footage in which Partch, evidently self-conscious in front of the camera, came across as somewhat awkward and stilted. Fortunately, when sparked by some idea or memory, he was prone to igniting and – instantly forgetting about the prying lens - cutting loose.

The third category captures such things as Partch trotting down the beach for a refreshing – or, as it appears here, bone-chilling - dip in the ocean, pottering around in his garden, hanging out his washing, or trying to set his house on fire. All right, maybe that last had something to do with preparing to cook some coffee, but no matter - the real question here is why? Does posterity really need a record of a composer going about his dull, daily domestics – would we benefit from seeing Herr J. S. Bach enjoying his evening pipe of tobacco, perhaps, or maybe Mr. E. W. Elgar taking tea in his drawing-room? The shortish answer is a resounding you bet your cotton socks we would! – such things flesh out the characters, remind us that these men were mortals - extremely gifted ones of course, but still made of the same flesh and blood as the rest of us.

However, there’s more to Pouliot’s images than meets the eye. Pouliot also recorded conversations with Partch, and used these to create voice-overs in which Partch talks about his beliefs and motivations, his experiences as a hobo during the Depression, and the lasting effect that these had on his outlook. The circle closes, as we observe their resonances: these are not just in his music but, as we can see with our own eyes, inform even the routine of his daily life. And so, there seems to be a deliberate order to these categories: from the man, his memories and daily grind, through the philosopher, his ideas and beliefs, to the practitioner, lending substance and capability to what he stands for. Then, there’s the icing on the cake - the enactment of a corporeal, ritual drama, an example of the “end product” of his life and work, suffused with those very philosophies we have heard expounded. This is the last link that locks the loop, almost with an audible “click”.

Subtitled A Study in Loving, Partch’s short ensemble piece appropriately concerns some of the motivations inherent in the documentary. To paraphrase Pouliot, it’s something of a plea for mankind to take more time to “hang out”, get to know one another, be a bit more “laid back”. In his final scene, Partch perhaps adds a dash of warning, by taking a sardonic side-swipe at the discouraging attitude of authority, as exemplified by the words “Do Not Loiter”. In all of this, oldsters like myself will readily detect an aura of the Hippy generation. Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, at that time, Partch lived in Encinitas, which in those days was something of a bohemian artistic enclave. It must have fitted Partch like a glove – as I often remark, his unique sound, which just shouts “flower power!” at you, predates hippies by donkey’s years. Moreover, this “hippy” quality also shines through the visuals.

Apart from the final scene, the ensemble is set against a seamless, bright white background. Whatever Pouliot’s artistic motivations were for this choice, it strikes me as though they were performing inside a pearl light bulb. On balance I find it counter-productive, because everything is three-quarters in silhouette. This is all very dramatic, but also very frustrating if you’re keen to observe the details of Partch’s instruments in action which - let’s face it – with otherwise little opportunity, most of us will be.

The members of the all-male “cast” are decked out in jeans and brightly-coloured “tank tops” - in the UK, we’d call them old-fashioned “vests”. Stephen Pouliot reckons that, 30 years down the line, these outfits still appear “fresh”. Hum – well, allied to the hair-styles, I’m afraid that they remind me of Jason King preparing for his ablutions. Sorry, but this all looks “dated”, quite unlike Partch’s exotic, ritualistic, totally timeless costumes for Delusion. Things look or sound dated because they use, say, the fashions and vernacular of a particular era. What generally sorts out the wheat from the chaff is whether the “message” is dated – West Side Story, for example, transcends its 1950s setting and styles because its message is universal. So, don’t get me wrong, I’ve nothing against things being “of their time” - it’s just that, like yesterday’s loaf, I don’t particularly want it being sold to me as “fresh”!

In any event, all these considerations are forced into the background by the performance itself. The majority of the performers were students. Before becoming involved in this project, they were utterly untutored in Partch’s intonational system, instruments, notations and corporeal production values. Yet, if you weren’t told that, I suspect that you’d never guess. This strikes me as one of the less obvious justifications of Partch’s entire approach. Although it turned out to be impractical in his large-scale pieces, his corporeal principles demanded that performers be “all-rounders” - and that included the musicians. They weren’t supposed to just play their instruments, with that air of deadpan concentration that characterises “conventional” musicians. On the contrary, they were expected to perform, with balletic grace, on their instruments, and always to be fully part of the stage action. Ideally, like everyone else on stage and as dictated by the drama, musicians should migrate between the diverse rôles of playing, singing, intoning, dancing and acting.

Obviously, this is a pretty tall order, and to the best of my knowledge it is something that Partch never fully realised in practice. Yet, in The Dreamer That Remains, you can see the principle at work, more so than in most of the other filmed Partch performances, and indeed the one live performance that I’ve seen. The members of the chamber ensemble variously “perform on their instruments”, intone, sing and - to a lesser extent - act. Moreover, they do so with a confidence and zest that totally eclipses their “rookie” status. Did they pick all this up so quickly and thoroughly simply because they were very talented young men? Well, no matter how talented they were, I can’t quite bring myself to believe that. It seems to me that they - along with others who preceded them - were given a leg up by Partch’s principles, which somehow must be finely attuned to the inherent human spirit. In a sense, they found themselves “doing what comes naturally” and so, naturally, they took to it like ducks to water.

Stephen Pouliot’s Commentary is a monologue that expands considerably on his note in the DVD booklet. It’s a detailed, fascinating, insightful and - most importantly - first-hand account of a young man’s encounter with a cantankerous genius old enough to be his grandad. It is especially notable for the uncommon – in one so young, certainly! - care and consideration with which Pouliot handled his subject, both on and off the set. For instance, not only did Pouliot have to figure out a modus operandi that took account of Partch’s failing health and energy, but also he had to accommodate some unpredictable and violent mood-swings. The degree of his success is measured by the quality of the product – and it must have been good to earn him a big hug from Harry himself!

The Commentary is heard, in place of the soundtrack, over the film’s visuals. When Pouliot stops talking, the film just rolls on, in total silence, until its conclusion some ten minutes later. Philip Blackburn had expected that Pouliot would talk as he viewed the film, and time his comments to nicely fit the film’s span. Unfortunately, it turned out that the commentary wasn’t long enough (or the film was too long!). In view of Philip Blackburn’s already colossal investment in time and sheer hard graft, I hesitate to carp, but there was a further option – another slideshow! Philip Blackburn himself has noted that occasionally – and to some extent accidentally – the commentary and visuals harmonise, suggesting that a suitable “slide” sequence could have been constructed using stills extracted from the film itself, padded out with a few more choice shots from the Partch Archive. Then, it could have concluded, neatly and tidily, with a dramatic portrait of Partch, fading gently to black under a closing title.

I think that this would have been “fair grand”, as they say in my neck of the woods, so – seeing as it’s a fairly obvious solution – why wasn’t it done? I gather that the answer lies in a technical and financial consideration. As you may be aware, the DVD format permits alternative soundtracks for the same visuals, a space-saving feature intended for use in multi-lingual productions. It was thus a neat idea to designate the Commentary as an alternative soundtrack to the film – and that’s why we have to have the film in its entirety. The extra space required by distinct visuals, such as a slideshow or indeed a copy of the film faded out after 18 minutes, would have spilled the production onto a second DVD.

Looking at it that way, I’d settle for what we’ve got, because here the only important thing is Stephen Pouliot’s voice! But, what do you do with that left-over ten minutes? Philip Blackburn has suggested that viewers be encourages to choose one of three options: (1) when the man finishes speaking, reach for the remote control, (2) take the opportunity to go and make some more popcorn, (3) improvise your own accompaniment at the piano – which, I would add, should first be justly re-tuned!

Apparently Rose-Petal Jam, one of the out-takes from The Dreamer That Remains, was shot because it illustrated the pervasiveness of Partch’s taste for the exotic. In the end, Partch himself vetoed it, on the fairly guarded grounds that it would attract critical ridicule to the detriment of the overall picture. However, as the scene approaches its end, we possibly get a bit nearer the nub of the matter. It’s here, right in front of the camera, that Partch suddenly makes that “critical” connection - and it sparks a stream of venomous abuse. I’ll leave you to guess the target. The film clip, even after Chris Campbell’s efforts at restoration, gives every impression that it’s been belatedly retrieved from a refuse skip. However, it is very short, and makes its point with a smile-inducing pungency that is, if anything, enhanced by its parlous condition!

Finally, there’s what we might call a filler, or perhaps an encore, a few murky minutes of Madeline Tourtelot film. These snippets of Revelation in the Courthouse Park provoke some presumptions. Firstly, it must have been a dress rehearsal, because the filming was done two days before the work’s première. Secondly, as the film was subsequently broadcast on “Channel 12, WILL-TV”, the entire production must have been captured on film. Thirdly, judging by the curiously disjointed nature of these excerpts, by now much of it must have gone the way of all flesh!

Even if that last is not the case I suspect that it would be a labour of love to endure the entire 80-odd minute production - in fact and in passing, this suspicion is confirmed by Philip Blackburn, whose complete copy also scuppers that third presumption! The sound comes a pretty poor second to your average shellac disc, and the black-and-white images remind me of A Foggy day in London Town. Nevertheless, it’s gratifying to have this modest sampler, because – with your pain minimised by its brevity! - it provides some intriguing images to complement the much larger selection of audio-only excerpts on Enclosure 5 (see review) – or, if you can manage to find a copy, the excellent digital audio recording of the complete 1987 American Musical Theater Festival production, issued by the now-defunct Tomato label (2-CD set, cat. no. 2696552).

In the excerpts you see the marching band, the back-projection fireworks, the tumblers – including the “synchronised trampolinist” – and witness the horrifying denouement. Incidentally, this dreadful climax also features early on in Pouliot’s film. Here it is performed by Partch himself, sitting alone at the chromelodion, which he uses to render the string of searing chords that mirrors Agave’s anguish.

Right - time to sum up, but first here’s a word of warning, though I doubt that seasoned DVD buffs will need it. This DVD comes in NTSC format only, so if you live in a PAL region and your player does not support NTSC/PAL conversion, you won’t exactly get the best out of it, if you take my meaning!

Thanks to Innova’s careful and imaginative application of new technology, the priceless treasure of Madeline Tourtelot’s Delusion film has been given a new lease of life, and can for the first time be enjoyed as it should be - without strain! Philip Blackburn’s Slideshow is a truly masterly production, a reincarnation not of the old bonus album but of the original artistic intentions that got lost courtesy of Columbia’s uncomprehending scissors. Backed up by his eloquent Commentary, Stephen Pouliot’s film is a credit to the art of the documentary - a carefully prepared, thoughtful, and enjoyable production that expands our appreciation of the “astonishing alchemist”.

A few very minor - and in any case fairly personal - reservations apart, Enclosure 7 strikes me as a stunning achievement, and an eminently fitting conclusion to the series as a whole. Comprising CDs, a book, VHS tapes and now this DVD, the Enclosures stand as the finest, widest-ranging assembly of Partch materials currently available to the public. Surely, somebody should now award Philip Blackburn and Innova a medal of commendation for this impressive achievement, otherwise they’ll have to make do with this one from me: “Well done, chaps!” Oh, and in case you hadn’t noticed, this DVD will keep you glued to your TV for well over two and a half hours, so even I can’t grumble about short measure!

Paul Serotsky


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