Delusion of the Fury showcases Harry Partch instruments at 2014 Edinburgh International Festival
Ensemble musikFabrik present music-theatre with song, glass bells and a goat
This article is from 2014.
Consider a picture of Ensemble musikFabrik playing the music of innovative 20th-century composer Harry Partch. It is not immediately clear what is happening. Is this a kinetic sculpture or other art installation? Should they even be touching these giant glass bells?
Similarly with the sound. This is not familiar to our ears: Partch was a pioneer of microtonality, developing unusual harmonies within his own highly complex pitch system. To realise this music, a regular old symphony orchestra is not fit for purpose. Over the course of his life Partch designed and built a complete ensemble of instruments to bring his aural vision alive.
He died in 1974 and his original instruments are held by the Harry Partch Institute of the Montclair State University in New Jersey. Happily for those of us on the other side of the Atlantic, German avant-garde music collective Ensemble musicFabrik has reconstructed the full orchestra and is bringing it, with some difficulty, to the Edinburgh International Festival.
They will be playing Delusion of the Fury, Partch’s expansive music-theatre piece that draws on the Japanese Noh tradition and Ethiopian myths as well as deploying the most extraordinary pieces of kit.
Thomas Meixner, a career percussionist, has spent the last two-and-a-half years building these instruments. (He reckons, working 16–18 hours a day, seven days a week, that’s 15,000 punishing hours.) ‘It is easy to build musical instruments that look like Partch’s, but very difficult to make sure they comply with all requirements of the scores,’ he explains. Partch built the instrument then saw what it could do. Meixner had to follow this process in reverse. ‘This was very complicated and had some unpleasant surprises for me.’
Now the instruments are as finished as such delicate, climate-sensitive, one-off pieces can be, Meixner can revel in the way Ensemble musikFabrik bring Partch’s extraordinary music alive. So can we.
Kings Theatre, 473 2000, 29 & 30 Aug, 8pm, £15–£35.