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Harry Partch playing the adapted viola, photo by Fred Lyon


So with all pleasures of life.

All things pass with the east-flowing water.

I leave you and go—when shall I return?

Let the white roe feed at will among the green crags,

Let me ride and visit the lovely mountains!

How can I stoop obsequiously and serve the mighty ones!

It stifles my soul.

His Dream of the Skyland – A Farewell Poem.


Li Po (Li Bai) (~701-763 CE) is universally recognized as one of the greatest Chinese poets of the Tang period, or for that matter, of the entire Chinese literary tradition. His poetry shows the influences of the interwoven philosophical religions of his time, Taoism, Neo Taoism, Confucianism and Buddhism, as well as a particular fondness for nature and wine. Well educated, highly regarded by everyone, he had lifelong trouble securing a post and spent his life as a wanderer, preternaturally creative and prolific. Over one thousand poems remain, along with the stories of his improvisations, drunkenness and generosity. Legend has it that he drowned while trying to grasp the moon in the water, but he is generally regarded to have committed suicide after leaving a farewell poem (partially quoted above). (This poem is the 10th of the set of 17 Lyrics).


The parallels between Partch and Li Bai are so striking as to imagine that they are the same person, re-cycled after a period of 1200 years. Hoboes, brilliant, often drunk, deeply admired, suspicious of authority, unable to find peace or security, and spectacularly creative, they are the irritating grain of sand in society’s eye that add the full dimension to our humanity – the rememberers of forgotten things.

“I am first and last a composer. I have been provoked into becoming a musical theorist, and instrument builder, a musical apostate, and a musical idealist, simply because I have been a demanding composer. I hold no wish for the obsolescence of the widely heard instruments and music. My devotion to our musical heritage is great — and critical. I feel that more ferment is necessary for a healthy musical culture. I am endeavoring to instill more ferment.” –Harry Partch 1942


In 1930, the composer Harry Partch (1901-1974) broke with Western European tradition and forged a new music based on a more primal, corporeal integration of the elements of speech, rhythm and performance using the intrinsic music found in the spoken word, the principles of acoustic resonance and just-intonation. Borrowing from the intonation systems of the ancient Greeks, he created a scale of 43-tones per octave, in part to enable him to capture the nuances of speech in his music, and to forge purer harmony. Read the rest of this entry »

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This Fall marks the twentieth season of provocative programming in New York City brought to you by Interpretations. Founded and curated by baritone Thomas Buckner in 1989, Interpretations focuses on the relationship between contemporary composers from both jazz and classical backgrounds and their interpreters, whether the composers themselves or performers who specialize in new music. To celebrate, Jerry Bowles has invited the artists involved in this season’s concerts to blog about their Interpretations experiences. Our second concert this season, on 16 October, features cellist Ted Mook, who has put together a program celebrating Ezra Sims’ 80th birthday on one half and promoting the music of Daniel Rothman on the other half:

Pansonority/Luminance: Music of Ezra Sims and Daniel Rothman

The two composers sharing this program have several things in common, things which are easy to talk about, write about and argue about. Sadly, some of these things can also be used as labels, to either wave as a standard of allegiance or a category to avoid. Neither composer has an institutional association, both composers work quietly in the calm, away from the frenzy of self-promotion. Both composers write meticulously considered music, consciously keeping the past in mind, but always stepping away from their last piece. Neither composer is on the tip of anyone’s tongue, but they are as well regarded as any similarly controversial artist. They are comfortable writing music that departs from the 12 note equal-tempered scale that dominates music today, though they can and do otherwise. Hence, pansonority.

Luminance, because it’s music that, for whatever reason, glows with its own light.

Daniel Rothman’s musical and visual preoccupations wander beyond the concert hall into eccentric spaces and timescales both smaller and larger than life. I’ll be performing a work Daniel wrote for me, aptly titled For Ted, a short, simple cello monologue, composed almost exclusively on the extreme upper harmonic partials of the instrument, assembling a narrative from heard, barely heard, unheard (imagined) sounds, much in the same way that the mind assembles a darkened room’s features from wisps of information from the dark adapted eye and the mind’s fabrications rushing in to fill the void. Pianist Eric Huebner will be playing la mùsica: mujer desnuda – corriendo loca pro la noche pura — the title being a poem by Juan Ramón Jiménez in its entirety, and Telling the Bees, which Eric premiered last year, and concerns a ceremony performed by a younger member of a household when his/her master or mistress dies, who visits the beehive rattling a chain of small keys, and whispers:

Little Brownies, little brownies, your master/mistress is dead.

Little Brownies, little brownies, your master/mistress is dead.

Little Brownies, little brownies, your master/mistress is dead.

Ezra Sims is a horse of a different color, and an older one, too, since we are celebrating his 80th birthday. Born in 1928, far off the musical reservation in Birmingham, Alabama, he showed intellectual and musical precociousness as a youngster and progressed through piano, string bass, choral singer, composer, Yale student, Mills student (with Darius Milhaud), New Yorker, Guggenheim Fellow in Japan, inventor of a 72-note per octave non-symmetrical notation system, resident of Cambridge, Massachusetts, co-founder of Dinosaur Annex (a Boston based new music ensemble) and still is writing music. In the 60s, driven by his ear to write down notes that were not reproducible on the piano, he developed a tonal system of 17 irregularly spaced notes, fully transposable, resulting in a 72 note sub-division of the octave. Taking it one step beyond the flattened system of Harry Partch (based on a root-ratio), Ezra’s system evolved a harmonic language allowing for closely related and fully chromatic modulations. These vast tonal resources are tamed by a somewhat conservative, almost Brahmsian romanticism, and the resulting music is clear and expressive. Pianist Eric Moe, mezzo-soprano Mary Nessinger, and I will be playing a set of works spanning his career.

Interpretations at Roulette
20 Greene St between Canal and Grand
New York NY

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