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CD: AmazonUK AmazonUS

Harry PARTCH (1901 - 1974)
Enclosure 8

1. Music Studio: Harry Partch [18:04]
2. Windsong [17:47]
3. U.S. Highball (1943, revised 1955) [24:26]
4. Rotate the Body in all Its Planes [9:00]
5. The Music of Harry Partch [29:59]
6. Barstow (1941, rev. 1968) [10:49]
7. Castor and Pollux – A Dance for the Twin Rhythms of Gemini (1952) [17:18]
San Diego Harry Partch Ensemble: Danlee Mitchell (director), with Ron Caruso; Randy Hoffman; Gary Irvine; Alan Silverstein; Francis Thumm [6]
The Ensemble Partch: Liz Hoefner (choreographer, dancer); Maud Comboul, Melissa Donguez, Kate Fox, Liana Lazos, Sarah Leddy (dancers); Rachel Arnold, Erin Barnes, David Johnson, Vicki Ray, John Schneider, Nick Terry, T. J. Troy (musicians) [7]
Filmed by Madeline Tourtelot, 1958 [1, 2], 1958 completed 1968 [3], 1961 [4]
Produced by KEBS/KPBS-TV, San Diego, 1968 [5]
Video recording by Carl Yamamoto, 1981 [6]
Carol McDowell, Yorgos Adamis (video operators); Liz Hoefner, Mark Bommerito (video editors); Giovanni di Simone (sound engineer); Redcat Theater, Los Angeles, 30 May 2006 [7]
Disc format: DVD video
Sound format: not specified
Picture format: NTSC
Region code: 0 (worldwide)
Previously released in VHS format as Enclosure 1 [1-4], Enclosure 4 [5]; appearing for the first time [6-7]
INNOVA 399 [127:23]

Experience Classicsonline

In December 2006, reviewing the Enclosure 7 DVD, I waxed lyrical about the Enclosures series as a whole. And why not, when I had it from an unimpeachable source that No. 7 was the very last instalment? Since then, the good folk of Innova – who, I might say, bear a suspiciously striking similarity to the aforementioned unimpeachable source – have gone and made a liar out of me. That’s something to which I’d usually take exception, but I’m more than happy to let it pass this time.
You see, less than two years previously (in March 2005), whilst reviewing the Enclosure 4 VHS tape, I’d fretted about the danger of depriving future generations of their rightful inheritance – after all, neither film nor videotape is exactly what you’d regard as the “medium of choice” in terms of staying power. I exhorted Innova to consider “the transfer of these films, and those of Enclosure 1, onto DVD.” Since then, of course, it’s also become a matter of simple commercial convenience – nowadays, customers clamouring for videotapes are getting to be a bit thin on the ground.
Whether in response to my urgent prompting or, somewhat more likely, because they already had sufficient common sense of their very own, Philip Blackburn and his Innova colleagues have done just that – taken together, the Enclosure 7 and 8 DVDs include all the films I’d been worrying about.
However, in producing Enclosure 7, Innova had gone way beyond the somewhat basic remit of “preservation”. Firstly, there was their brilliant solution to the problem of the infamous “bonus disc”, which had been sporadically included in the original LP boxed set of Delusion of the Fury. Secondly, they added new materials, including Stephen Pouliot’s substantial film, The Dreamer that Remains: A Portrait of Harry Partch. Thirdly, there was the Enclosure’s glorious centrepiece – Madeline Tourtelot’s film of Delusion of the Fury, which had not so much been secured as reincarnated. Innova jettisoned the grotty original soundtrack, and resynchronised the visuals – superbly revitalised by state-of-the-art digital restoration techniques – to the thoroughly admirable CBS audio recording.
Of course, the good lady Serendipity played a large part in this – firstly in ensuring what was, as likely as not, CBS’s entirely coincidental interest in recording the music the day after the staged performance, and secondly in arranging for there to be a very close correspondence between the tempi of the theatrical performance and the audio-only recording. However, like the Spirit of Delight, Serendipity rarely, rarely comest. Sadly, she has steered well clear of all the other five films, which have thus had to make do with whatever favours plain, ordinary digital jiggery-pokery could bestow on them.
Nevertheless, the Enclosure 7 “philosophy” has influenced the genesis of Enclosure 8. Let’s face it, Innova could simply have followed the practice of legions of other companies, and slapped “digitally remastered” labels on the boxes of ordinary transfers. Instead, sticking with the standard they’d set themselves in the Enclosure 7 production, they refused to take any such easy – and ultimately less fruitful – option. Hence, at least in part, Enclosure 8 has seen the light of day because Innova came up with something extra, something both “new” and substantial, to complement the reissue of the remastered “old” materials.
Right – so let’s start by ringing out the “old”. These occupy the first five tracks (or should I say “titles”?) of the DVD. You can read about the original issues in my reviews of Enclosure 1 (Four historic art films produced by Madeline Tourtelot, with music by Harry Partch), and Enclosure 4 (in respect of the film, The Music of Harry Partch). Here I need comment only on the transfers. Here also I have a problem: my VHS machine did not emigrate with me from the UK to New Zealand. Moreover, whilst preparing for the Big Move, the minor matter of getting a bunch of VHS tapes copied onto DVD got swamped by a million-and-one increasingly urgent tasks, all frantically screaming for my attention. So much for “securing” my records!
Never mind. We’ll just have to rely on my memory. Luckily, I have a very good memory (recall, though, recall I do have a problem with!) and, overall, these five films do indeed come across better than I remember. The pictures are less fuzzy and unstable, with colours (where applicable) that are that bit sharper and more intense, whilst the soundtracks are now rather less inclined to sandpaper the eardrums.
However, note my persistent use of comparatives! By and large, much of what we’re losing is the muck attributable to the videotape medium – visual “hiss”, dropouts, tape stretching and wrinkling, jitters, lo-fi sound quality and so on. That said, the sound quality may have been better (or “less bad”) on the original NTSC tape issues – for British purchasers in general and this reviewer in particular, Enclosures 1 and 4 were “informally” copied from NTSC to PAL. Moreover, I am as certain as my powers of recall will allow, that my review copies had no VHS hi-fi track, so the sound was constrained to the somewhat “AM radio” quality of the edge-track.
We get to keep, I presume, a more or less faithful reproduction of the original films – so that, on the DVD, all the symptoms of their shoe-string budgets and ageing medium are now exposed with unprecedented clarity. Yet, clearly, that’s as much as we can reasonably expect, so we mustn’t grumble over-much. In fact, since the differences between the videotape transfers and the DVD remasterings do vary considerably from film to film, I’m duty-bound to flip through them.
On tape, the colours of Music Studio had that rather brash, 8 mm. “home movie” quality. In ascending to DVD, they seem to have acquired an additional, rudimentary resemblance to those old Hammer horror films, with their creepy, surreal combinations of greens, magentas, blues and reds. This provoked in me an incidental awareness of a vague, mildly disquieting similarity between Harry Partch and a bearded Christopher Lee. Since they have become apparent only on the DVD, I must presume that these Transylvanian overtones are in fact more faithful to the original film. Still, if you find it all a bit too lurid, you can always have a little fiddle with your TV’s colour controls [see footnote].
I had intended to sample only a few snippets from U. S. Highball. I ended up glued to the screen for the entire 25 minutes. All right, so this was partly because the work itself is so involving, but on this occasion it was equally because I was basking in a new richness of both image and sound – the latter in particular a substantial improvement over that of the rather ropey VHS tape (Enclosure 1).
The monochrome imagery of Windsong is of course still monochrome, but impressions that I had mentioned in my original review, such as the “sunlight glinting off water to the singular strains of wood and glass”, had become more precisely pointed by virtue of the clearer images and sound. Ah! And at last I can confirm that Apollo is played by Rudolph Seno, because I can now see in the credits his full surname, the end of which had been chopped off by the VHS image frame!
I originally reported severe, progressive soundtrack distortion during the final two minutes of The Music of Harry Partch. Owners of any such copies will be delighted to hear that the DVD (like, I’m told, the original NTSC tape) is not similarly afflicted. By way of “compensation”, though, the DVD picture, both at the end of the performance itself and at the end of the newly “tacked on” credits, seems rather untidily clipped (the image seems to become somewhat “shredded”!). Needless to say, though, these are very minor glitches; the meat of the film is fine, and as engrossing as ever.
For me, though, the Number One eye-opener was the refurbished Rotate the Body in all Its Planes. I just gawped at it in amazement, because I could have sworn that the VHS version of this film was in black-and-white! Yet, there it was, before my very eyes, sporting colours both full and accurate, as testified by the gymnasts’ healthy flesh-tones. To be fair, much of what you see actually is either black or white, but now that only serves to throw the departures therefrom into vivid relief – and slots neatly into place as a further demonstration of the ingenuity of Tourtelot’s art.
Originally, I had concluded that Tourtelot’s and Partch’s imagination and inventiveness somehow shone through the production’s “nine murky minutes”. Not any more, they don’t! The murk has been thoroughly banished, the film has come up as bright and shiny as a brand-new pin, and it is now a fully-qualified, bona fide, card-carrying, unreservedly astonishing experience.
Now let’s ring in the “new”! These comprise two “videos” (recordings made on videotape as opposed to celluloid) which, in common with only a very few other recordings in the Enclosures series, are of performances that post-date Partch’s demise. Oh, and is that such a Big Deal? You might well ask. After all, you might well add, isn’t this a boat Partch shares with most composers? Indeed it is, but then again Harry Partch isn’t “most composers”! He’s about as far apart from the conventional compositional crowd as it’s possible to get – to the best of my knowledge, in certain important respects he is a complete “one off”.
The evidence and arguments for this proposition add up to a (fairly) watertight proof that truth is indeed stranger than fiction; Partch’s story is a revelatory romance, and one that profoundly affected my attitude towards this stuff we call “music”. To get the flavour of it, try referring firstly to my article A Just Cause, and then to subsequent expositions in my reviews (in order of writing) Enclosure 1, Enclosure 4, Enclosure 6, Enclosure 2, Enclosure 5, Enclosure 7 and Enclosure 3, along with some supplementary discussions in The Harry Partch Collection Volume 2 and The Harry Partch Collection Volume 4. Inveterate completists will no doubt feel duty-bound to round it all off with the review of the Kronos Quartet’s U.S. Highball.
A major part of the Big Deal relates to something that virtually no other composers ever bothered (or even needed) to think about – that is, what’ll happen to their music after they’re dead and gone? Partch’s own attitude was both realistic and practical – quite simply, he believed that without him there’d be no more performances of his music, and so he set about creating a recorded legacy.
For live performances of Partch’s music to continue after his death, a whole string of imposing obstacles would have to be overcome. First and foremost, an organisation would be needed to preserve, maintain and possibly even replicate his astonishing array of unique instruments, some of which are quite big and most of which are very delicate. Subsequently, there’d have to be a continuous succession of musicians, willing and able to acquire and pass on the requisite technical skills, and perpetuate a performing tradition.
That’s already a pretty tall order, but there’s another, possibly even taller order lurking in the wings! If you’ve looked at, in particular, Enclosure 5, you should have some idea of Partch’s ideal of “corporealism”, the visionary concept that evolved in parallel with his life’s work. It eventually encapsulated his entire ethos, drawing together all the threads of his philosophy, theory and practice. Consequently, considerations of corporeality must be central to any performance of Partch. However, it is also a concept that was – and remains – both extremely difficult to pin down and ridiculously easy to misconstrue. Hence, it was no wonder that Partch protected it with the kind of pathological zeal that is normally the preserve of half-starved Alsatian guard-dogs.
From the section “Production Problems” in The Harry Partch Collection Volume 4, you’ll gather that Partch not only didn’t suffer fools gladly, but also had a fairly low tolerance even of acknowledged experts – or, rather, he did when their ideas dared to go against his grain, no matter how slightly. Partch, in part over-reacting against what he saw as the traditional treatment of musicians, as “second-class citizens”, seemed hell-bent on giving everybody else, as it were, and justifiably or not, a taste of their own medicine. Unfortunately, more or less by definition, to put his “corporeality” into practice absolutely demanded the very closest collaboration between artists of all persuasions. If his middle name wasn’t “Affable”, then neither was it “Consistent”.
Although it’d be true to say that a fair number of Partch’s would-be collaborators simply didn’t cotton on to what he was after, it was also true that sometimes they did, and were quite properly discriminating between the practicable and the impossible in their own areas of expertise. It should come as no great surprise, but a source of great regret, to learn that the irascible and intractable Partch often alienated these latter, the very people who were trying their level best to help him.
Yet, it wasn’t that Partch was simply what we’d call “a nasty piece of work”. The matter of collaboration is one particularly significant measure of just how wide was the gulf between Partch and the common artistic herd. Artists, generally speaking, have a fairly free-and-easy attitude to collaboration, and can get one going with not much more than a simple, “I like your idea – why not come over and we’ll see how it pans out?” If it didn’t “pan out” then, apart from being a few bob out of pocket, it was no big deal.
Consequently, hardly anyone understood that, for Partch, “coming over” meant infinitely more than just packing a bag and hopping on the next train. For him it was a massively complex, hugely expensive upheaval, a total commitment not to be taken at all lightly by someone living and working on the breadline and perpetually on the brink of homelessness. Yet, he desperately needed successful collaborations, as these provided his only real opportunities for gaining recognition, credibility and – possibly most importantly – some much-needed relief from flaky finances.
All this put Partch into something approaching the cleft stick of a “catch 22” situation. Consider, for instance, what was probably his collaborative chance of a lifetime. He was approached by one of the very few with whom he was actually keen to co-operate. Unfortunately, it took even the celebrated Martha Graham far too long to appreciate fully both how much she was asking of him and how disastrously detrimental was the least delay.
Tragically, a mere two days before she finally found the necessary financial resources, his tether had reached its elastic limit, compelling him to call the whole thing off (the DVD booklet essay says that it was Graham who “backed out at the last moment”, contradicting the account in Bob Gilmore’s Partch biography, to which the essay refers). We can only sigh dolefully, and dream wistfully about what might have been.
For all these and umpteen ancillary reasons, Partch himself never succeeded in realising the full potential of his corporeal ideal, which brings us nicely to the $64,000 Question: once he, arguably the only man who completely comprehended the concept, was no longer around to guide – or bully – folks along the path of corporeal righteousness, what chance did anyone stand of bringing his ideal to fruition? The answer, of course, depends on the amount of time, depth of thought and sweat of brow that folk were prepared to invest in their assaults on this particularly daunting Parnassus.
It’s generally considered, at least amongst those who know about these things, that one production came pretty close. Kenneth Gaburo’s 1979 production of The Bewitched (see Enclosure 5) was, according to all reports, an all-out attempt to really “nail” Partch’s corporeality, a venture which involved six whole months of extremely intensive and often highly unconventional preparation.
There was another that contended for Gaburo’s top slot – the 1987 American Music Theater Festival production of Revelation in the Courthouse Park. An excellent audio recording of this was released on Tomato 2696552, which is, sadly, out of the catalogue on account of the label permanently putting up its shutters. I dare say that, if Innova ever get their hands on the master, yet another “final” Enclosure might well emerge into the bright light of day.
In this context, and thus complementing the five reissues discussed above, Enclosure 8’s two video recordings are not merely “new materials”, they are highly pertinent – precisely because they are performances of Partch bereft of the guidance of the Guru. They vividly illustrate widely differing attitudes and approaches to corporeality – one showing how exceedingly hard it is to get it anywhere near right, the other how ridiculously easy it is to get it oh-so-wrong.
The first is of the San Diego Harry Partch Ensemble’s 1981 production of Barstow (Eight Hitch-hikers’ Inscriptions from a Highway Railing in Barstow, California). Although a far more modest venture than either of the two aforementioned, it was just as concerned to keep the best of all possible faiths with Partch’s corporeal philosophy.
Thus, the musicians and their instruments are elevated from their lowly station in the theatre pit and onto the stage, to become an integral part of the dramatic enactment. Mind you, there was no option, really. If they’d stayed put in the pit, the stage would have offered a dramatic experience rather less gripping than the old TV test card! That’s because Barstow is essentially a “chamber work” in which, as well as playing instruments, the musicians, operating in the very purest corporeal mode, also do all the acting and (after a fashion!) singing and dancing.
At least, that’s how it should be. Originally, Partch composed Barstow so that he could perform it on his own, accompanying himself on the adapted guitar. As his corporeality evolved, so did Barstow, and along with it the range of opportunities for corrupting corporealism The “voice” part can be, and sometimes has been, enacted by one or more dedicated vocalists, accompanied by a group of dedicated instrumentalists. However, this constitutes a “division of labour” into fully distinct specialisms, contrary to corporeal principles. To do it right, the instrumentalists should be actively involved in the dramatic action, at least some of the time.
There’s more than one way to skin this cat. This particular production uses a sort of “round robin” method. At the start, there’s one man up front, and the rest are at their instruments. The man up front performs the “prelude”, hands over to someone else, goes to find an instrument to play, and so on.
This neat idea may have resulted partly from practical constraints, since the stage seems hardly bigger than a telephone box. Nevertheless, it (the idea) admits a fair bit of flexibility, in that those playing instruments often interact, sometimes vigorously, with the man up front, and the man up front may be multiplied. The dramatic snatches implicit in the inscriptions are acted out with an exhilarating combination of enthusiasm, humour (or should I say, “humor”?) both wry, sardonic, and ribald, and a thoroughly disarming disdain of boring old professional polish.
What’s more, the performers are all in costume. Granted, it’s not “period” costume, so they don’t look like proper Depression hoboes, of the sort who inscribed the railing at Barstow. Instead they are dressed up – or rather “down” – in costume of a later generation, something along the lines of scruffy, down-at-heel, late 1960s hippies. It may – or may not – surprise you to hear that the words of the 1930s hoboes sound as though they could have been designed to slip out of the mouths of these hippies.
However, in spite of ticking plenty of boxes, to my mind this production doesn’t quite hack it in the corporeal department. The reason is an unfortunate conspiracy of three factors. Firstly, a spotlight on and around the up-front action leaves the rest of the stage enveloped, comparatively, in stygian gloom. Secondly, a hand-held microphone – which is effectively a sling-like handicap to its bearer – passes from one up-front man to the next. Thirdly, the dramatic action is more or less confined to the “soloist’s spot”.
Thus, although this isn’t really what is happening, what you see is something akin to a parade of “variety turns” passing through the limelight. The fact that everyone actually does do a bit of everything is thus obscured by the look and feel of distinct specialisms – of “acting” and “backing group” – at work. So, it would seem, the cat has hung onto its hide by the skin of its teeth.
Yet, something niggles at me. In the context of the performance, this minor shortcoming against Partch’s corporeality stands out, not because it’s all that bad, but because what’s right is so very, very good. But surely, if I can spot this, then it must have been blindingly obvious to the San Diego Harry Partch Ensemble, mustn’t it? If that’s the case, which I do not for one moment doubt, then the problem must stem from what were seen as unavoidable practical compromises. And if so, then they were in very good company since, although Partch himself didn’t believe in compromise, as often as not he had to suffer it. Even the great god Corporeality must genuflect before the greater gods of Cost and Practicability, so I fear that this production lost out simply for want of an appropriate sacrifice – by which I mean a bigger budget!
Does it sound like I’m carping? Much as it might seem so I am, most assuredly, not. I’m trying to underline specifically “how exceedingly hard it is to get it right”, even for Partch disciples, thoroughly acquainted with his philosophy and committed to his cause. I must say that, although the reservation persists, in every other respect this production becomes more impressive and enthralling more each time I return to it.
The recording was evidently something of an “opportunist” effort. If you can cast your mind back as far as 1980, and are able to recall those home-made “videos” of things like school pantomimes in village halls, this will have you going all dewy-eyed with nostalgia. All the action was captured by only one camera and its on-board microphone – judging by the characteristically boomy and boxy sound, the hand-held microphone must have been purely a PA feed.
Not surprisingly, the soundtrack reminds us in no uncertain terms of the limitations of those “vintage” VCR sonics. It says much for Partch’s ideas on “speech-music” that, in spite of the murky sound, you can understand pretty well every single word, which is more than can be said for most opera recordings, even where they have the advantage of “super hi-fi” sound. Curiously, in view of the nature of the equipment, the sounds and images aren’t synchronous. This, along with a constant (mains?) hum, should have been easy enough to eliminate, so I’m slightly surprised that Innova haven’t done so. But – at least you can hear everything!
That said, this very primitive set-up does have one definite advantage. The cameraman, Carl Yamamoto, was – indeed, had to be! – gratifyingly judicious in his use of pan and zoom; only rarely was he seduced into zooming in too close for comfort. Hence, there’s precious little of the mal de mer that plagues many homemade videos – or even many professional productions, for that matter – and of course none of that “creative” cutting in of close-ups that so often forces you to miss half the action. As with the sound, there’s little that could be done to improve the picture, but still, as you peer at the bleary images, perhaps wishing they could’ve afforded a bit of the old celluloid for the job, at least you can see what’s going on!
Providing impeccable ćsthetic balance, the other “video” illustrates the flip side of the corporeal coin: “how ridiculously easy it is to get it oh-so-wrong”. The booklet, which is well up to Innova’s usual standard (leaving many, if not most, DVD productions floundering in its wake), includes a substantial essay written by Danlee Mitchell assisted by Jon Szanto, on the subject of “Castor and Pollux – The Implications of Choreography in its Performance.”
Broadly speaking, Partch’s researches into primitive rituals and ceremonies provided the initial spark that ignited his idea of corporealism. His fire was fuelled by ancient Greek theatre and the physics of music, which together planted in his mind a concept of the intimate relationship between speech-tones and justly-intoned musical scales. As a composer, he was well able to master and build on these ideas. However, his extensive reading also taught him, amongst plenty of other stuff, that dance – the “harmony of human movement”, if you like – was of equal significance in the all-embracing, corporeal scheme of things.
Mother Nature, I’m inclined to believe, rarely if ever endows a man with all the faculties that he really needs. She richly endowed Harry Partch with many and varied faculties, but, sadly, dance was not one of them. Hence, his ideas for dance were at best generalised – Mitchell tells us that, “In relation to dance, he gives little in terms of specific instructions, but upon seeing the implementation he could comment with intensity.” In other words, like most of us, whilst he couldn’t tell you precisely what he wanted, he could always tell you exactly where you’d got it wrong.
Thus, regarding dance in the context of corporeality, Partch’s most definitive prescriptions are either general “guidelines” or statements about what is to be avoided. Top of the list is Partch’s unqualified abhorrence of so-called “abstract modern dance” (although I suspect that, really, he must have objected just as strongly to “abstract dance” of any vintage!). This is because abstraction blatantly flies in the very face of his corporeal principles, which require dance, in common with all the other spokes of the corporeal wheel, to serve and reinforce the drama that is their common hub. Hence, it raises no eyebrows to learn that Partch much admired – though was never so rash as to emulate – classical ballet, whether with or without a tutu or two.
This reminds me: by now you’d be entirely justified in asking (if you haven’t done so already), “If corporeality is, as you say, ‘a concept that was – and remains – both extremely difficult to pin down and ridiculously easy to misconstrue’, even for talented artists, then how come you think you know so much about it?” The answer to that is obvious. I don’t – as it happens, my standpoint in relation to corporeality is identical to Partch’s in relation to dance.
Mitchell’s essay is patently intended to introduce the interpretation of Castor and Pollux that concludes Enclosure 8. Yet, he makes no direct reference to it. This is not so much perversity as diplomacy, albeit barbed diplomacy, since he directs you firmly towards the worst possible way of performing Castor and Pollux, then leaves you to form your “own” conclusion. That conclusion rapidly becomes obvious as you put the performance on “trial by TV”.
The charge is, “that this performance does not properly conform to the regulations laid down by the Corporeal Enactments Act”. Counsel for the defence will draw our attention to the facts that Partch’s instruments are indeed arrayed on-stage, that the players do, to some extent at least, perform on them rather than just play them, and that nobody is obviously referring to sheet music. Further, the performance follows Partch’s original suggestion, that at any given time the numbers of dancers should more or less match the numbers of musicians playing.
Counsel for the prosecution, with relish aforethought, will make complete mincemeat of this defence, firstly by pointing out that the instruments are arrayed only peripherally behind the stage-front dance area, a deferential standpoint enabling the lowly musicians not only to continue the traditional practice of doffing their caps to the Lords and Ladies of the Dance, but also to doff the said caps in the full glare of the public’s gaze.
Indeed, the cameras do concentrate largely on the dancing, only very rarely involving the instruments in their attentions. In fact, as you take in the end-credits, you will be surprised at how many instruments there were, because half of them are never seen at all. Moreover, the musicians are not in costume, and although, like the dancers, they do make entrances and exits, these are not managed in any theatrical sense, but give the overriding impression that musicians are taking advantage of tacets to nip off for a quick fag (or some such), and ultimately – because you can’t help thinking, “Why didn’t he just stay where he was?” – become mildly irritating.
Counsel will further argue that the rôles of dancers and musicians are rigidly segregated, that their contributions are devoid of any dramatic integration, that the dancing contains no more than the very occasional, and even then almost imperceptible and probably accidental nod in the general direction of narrative expression, that the costumes bear a remarkable resemblance to conscripted pyjamas, and that the backdrop of a sickly yellow rectangle, looking like a jaundiced movie-screen, does little other than make you wonder whether that’s really what it is – and, for that matter, whether something interesting is going to appear on it (in case you’re wondering: no, nothing ever does).
This is so thoroughly “abstract” that it would very likely have had the old Soviet authorities screaming, “Petty Bourgeois Formalism!” I’m pretty sure that, watching this, nobody, but nobody could discern any trace of a storyline of any sort. The only indication of the legend of the conception and birth of the Gemini comes from the on-screen title and the several sectional subtitles, to which the dancers’ patterns of movement seem immune. It may look graceful; it may look pretty; it may look “expressive” – but, no matter how well-performed it is, and it does indeed ooze choreographic competence, corporeal it most definitely isn’t.
The defendants may consider themselves exceedingly fortunate that Mr. Partch is no longer around to sit in judgement, for if he had been, his verdict would have been a summary “guilty as charged”, although probably expressed a little more – shall we say? – colourfully. I don’t care to hazard any guesses as to what sentence he might have imposed on the convicted miscreants.
I must admit, though, that this saddens me. Latter-day performances of Partch are always going to be nearly as rare as hens’ teeth, so it’s a crying shame with knobs on when all those talented people put in all that hard work, to set a live performance of Partch before the people, and then completely miss the point.
Anyway, technical nostalgia-freaks will find some abiding interest and amusement in observing the improvement in video technology over the 25 years that had elapsed since the Barstow production. The stereo sound, whilst not sensational by anybody’s standards and clearly unsettled by the bonging of the cloud-chamber bowls, nevertheless gives a pretty fair impression of the visible instrumental disposition and the acoustic environment.
Two cameras were used, yet the resultant “style” turns out to be very similar to that adopted by Carl Yamamoto for Barstow. Presumably this is because most of the second camera’s footage ended up in the editing-room waste bin, since, if you happen to blink in the right pair of places, you’ll miss all the evidence of its use.
Lovers of abstract modern ballet, particularly if they’re also intrigued by the prospect of exotic instruments arrayed on-stage as an accompaniment and backdrop to abstract modern ballet, will lap this up. However, as I doubt that any such aficionados will be likely to penetrate any further than the words “Harry Partch” on the DVD’s front cover, I think I can safely assume that the true purpose and value of this item will be exactly as Innova intended – as an “educational” comparison and contrast to that brilliant Barstow aimed directly at those who are intrigued by the concept of corporeality.
That’s one reason why you shouldn’t let this misrepresentative Castor and Pollux put you off this DVD. Another is that it occupies only 17 minutes of the DVD’s 127 minutes running time, and still another is that the remaining 110 minutes are crammed with half a dozen indisputable treasures, including one that, to the best of my knowledge, has popped up for the very first time.
Of course, because this 8th. Enclosure completes the transfer to DVD of the entire contents of Enclosures 1 and 4, really there are still only six distinct Enclosures. Will the enterprising Innova unearth further Partch treasures? If they do, will these be sufficient to repopulate the now-vacated premises at Nos. 1 and 4? Or will they just move them into a newly-built No. 9? Either way, I await, with growing impatience, Innova’s release of their next “final” Enclosure!
Footnote: I asked producer Philip Blackburn about the weird colours of Music Studio. He informed me thus: The original transfer was from the one 16mm film master onto Betamax (and thence to VHS), the precious film subsequently being tucked away using all possible storage precautions. Wanting the best possible quality for Enclosure 8, they had a completely fresh transfer made of the film – and discovered that the film’s colours, save only the red, had faded disastrously. Using the original transfer for reference, the best that could be managed by way of colour restoration is what you see – green sky and all. It seems that I was right to worry, although I take no pleasure whatsoever from that knowledge.
Paul Serotsky


































































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