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Delusion of the Fury: A Ritual of Dream and Delusion was the ultimate expression of all facets of his work, an hour-long production employing a large ensemble of his own instruments and a group of singer-dancer-actors. This 1969 film of a fully staged production was made with his full participation and can therefore be regarded as definitive. The movie is in colour but the video quality is unfortunately very poor. The audio, on the other hand, is very good.

The show begins with a ten minute overture, the 'Exordium', accompanied by titles, stills of Partch's unorthodox instruments and live video of the costumed instrumentalists in action. Most of the work consists of mime and dance, much of it rather static and ritualistic. Singing voices, on and off stage, are used sparingly [listen -- 'Chorus of Shadows', chapter 2, 11:28-13:50].

Is his music 'weird, daunting and unattractive'? In a word, 'no'. It would be silly to expect a piece called The Delusion of the Fury to be all sweetness and light but the musical language is direct and approachable. Its strangeness is more akin to the strangeness of Balinese gamelan or Tibetan Buddhist chant than to the complexities of Xenakis or Boulez.

By choosing to compose for non-standard instrumentations, Partch (knowingly or not) condemned his music to obscurity. The reality of concert programming is that permanent ensembles develop a repertoire and perform works from it as appropriate, and unless the repertoire for a given instrumention is large and varied enough to sustain a career, the required ensemble will not exist. This affects even such nearly-standard combinations as violin, viola and piano: re-writing the viola part for cello would quadruple the number of performances. When we look at Partch's music from this viewpoint (first make the instrument, then learn to play it, then learn the notation system, then find others as committed to the music as yourself) the wonder is not that it is heard so rarely but that it was ever heard at all. And in fact, his importance is less in his compositions than in his influence. A whole generation of innovators -- Lou Harrison and Warren Burt to name but two -- has taken up aspects of his work and carried them out into the mainstream.

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Copyright © 26 July 2007 Malcolm Tattersall, Townsville, Australia

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