Strike Up the Bloboy

A musical inventor's preserved instruments, trucked cross-country.

A musical innovator like no other, composer Harry Partch (1901–1974) went so far as to invent his own instruments. Unsatisfied by standard tuning (the rigid hegemony of the piano), he sought even subtler pitch nuances, preferring the sound of a scale that divides the octave into 43 separate notes rather than the usual 12. To play this music, he built an orchestral menagerie whose names suggest some collaboration between J.K. Rowling and Dr. Seuss. Among them are the bloboy, the quadrangularis reversum, and the zymo-xyl, built from "14 high-pitched oak xylophone bars, 17 tuned whisky bottles, two hubcaps, and an aluminum kettle top." Preserving these decades-old contraptions has been the responsibility of the ensemble Newband, based at Montclair State University in New Jersey; they're trucking the lot across the country for tonight's Meany Hall performance. Some of Partch's percussion instruments vaguely recall the sound of an Indonesian gamelan, and his plucked-string inventions may bring to mind a Japanese koto, but it's safe to say that outside of a pilgrimage to the Garden State, you'll never hear anything like this. On top of this exoticism, Partch, a fervent populist for all his experimentation, liked to layer strong doses of what Greil Marcus dubbed "the old, weird America" of folk songs and folkways—as in his Barstow, musical settings of graffiti jottings Partch collected during his Depression-era years as a rail-riding hobo. Meany Hall, UW campus, 543-4880, music.washington.edu. $12–$20. 7:30 p.m. Wed., Nov. 7.

 
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