PARTCH Member Spotlight

  • Michael Kudirka - Harmonic Canon, Kithara, Adapted Guitar, Voice

    I performed in PARTCH from 2007-2011.

    Something of a loaded statement: all performers of Partch’s music both inhabit and are inhabited by his spirit while playing...that rare combination of duality where the player is guided by the larger hand behind the notes is the true meat of the matter...it’s why we do what we do.

    Michael Kudirka was born in Chicago and grew up just north in Skokie, Illinois. The guitar and its continued study brought him to Los Angeles in the mid-90s to USC, and later to CalArts, finally culminating in a Doctor of Musical Arts degree (USC) in 2012. Naturally gravitating toward alternate tuning systems, Michael’s first public recital of microtonal guitar was Jeffrey Holmes’ “Five Micro-Tonal Studies,” a piece John Schneider (founding Artistic Director of PARTCH Ensemble) would program again in 2003 as part of Schneider’s annual MicroFest celebration of microtonal music As we often see, one microtone begets another, and soon Michael’s ear for just intonation and its cousins was open and listening, bringing him to a concert by PARTCH Ensemble at the REDCAT Theater in Los Angeles in 2006. 

    A year later, Michael joined PARTCH Ensemble for the first time at Los Angeles’ coveted Grand Performances Watercourt stage, the instruments seemingly floating on water…

    I’d have to say my favorite moment performing with PARTCH was my very first concert with the group on the Grand Performances series in downtown L.A.. It was both terrifying and exhilarating to wonder if all the hours of practice on the Harmonic Canon and Kithara would deliver the goods in concert. It forced me into a level of presence with my music-making…

    Indeed, presence...that’s the exact spirit that Partch intended all his musicians to embody and extoll throughout his music. And if you don’t bring that yourself, then Partch has a tendency to do it for you

    ...my first exposure to PARTCH...completely blew my mind. It was like hearing a truly alien musical language that was at the same time both totally unlike anything I had heard before, and yet strangely familiar, human, and natural sounding.

    Michael’s extraordinary high standards of performance contributed to some of PARTCH Ensemble’s most memorable concert experiences in its history, including performances in Guadalajara, Mexico at the 2009 International Book Fair, and a 7-day residency with the Repertory Dance Theater of Salt Lake City, UT in 2008. Contributing on primarily stringed instruments, Michael was keen to lend his voice to Hitkchiker #6 in the Ensemble’s performances of Barstow, once again harnessing the spirit of the composer and his mythic journeys, bringing life once more to the strange cast of characters that crafted Harry Partch’s aesthetic, musical and otherwise. 

    ...what is most relevant today is to hold onto Harry’s powerful combination of play, intellectual rigor, sheer inventiveness, and downright weirdness.

    Well said, Dr. Kudirka.

    Currently on the faculty of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro, AK, Michael has continued his long collaboration with composer Jeffrey Holmes, recording his guitar concerto “HRITH” for MicroFest Records’ double-album release of Holmes’ music, “May the Bridges I Burn Light My Way” (May 2019). Michael has also formed  his own company MicroTone Guitars, developing a line of instruments with interchangeable fretboards that allow a transition between different tuning systems in a matter of seconds.

    Michael’s exploits go beyond microtonal guitar...

    In 2016 I collaborated with composer Thomas Adès on his first composition for guitar, a dream sequence in his opera “The Exterminating Angel”. I went on the perform in the opera at the Salzburger Festspiele (Austria), the Royal Opera House (UK), and the Metropolitan Opera (NYC), with mezzo-sopranos Anne Sofie von Otter and Alice Coote.

    Michael Kudirka’s tenure with PARTCH Ensemble may have been brief, but the experience left him changed, as it does for most of us playing Harry’s music. The level of creativity of the music, the combined savvy and wit next to pure compositional prowess, yielded a body of work that few musicians can truly fathom to the level of nuance that Partch needed from his players. Michael Kudirka understood the nuance, the intensity, behind the music, and instinctively knew that this composer would ask more from his musicians than a mere execution of the notes, but a true embodiment of the spirit from whence the music came. We are grateful to Michael for his contributions, and cherish him as a member of PARTCH Ensemble’s extended family.

    You can learn more about Dr. Michael Kudirka at his website: https://www.michaelkudirka.com/



  • Matt Cook - Percussion

    Cloud Chamber Bowls, Bass Marimba, Kithara, Harmonic Cannons, Surrogate Kithara, Spoils of War, Diamond Marimba, and Marimba Eroica...

    “I most enjoy the communal elements of music. I like making connections in our community and exploring how music impacts other communities or cultures.”

    Music has the rare power to transcend vast swatches of reality in its effort to build connections, and most often, we want music to do exactly that...transport us to a place aside this one, remove the spaces between us and the other, such that we lose the distinction between ourselves and our surroundings, environment, and community. That’s where we gain the freedom to rebuild those relationships in our own image: how many friendships have begun with a handshake and an inquiry…”do you play the drums?”

    Matt Cook spends his time cultivating connections from the ground up, a rare combination of master percussionist, educator, and leader in the non-profit arts community. Originally from Duluth, GA, Matt pursued his muse at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music, his focus on orchestral and contemporary percussion, especially in a chamber music context. 

    Matt came to PARTCH Ensemble in 2011 via the arm team, otherwise known as the California Institute of the Arts, where he completed his graduate studies with then Head of Percussion Studies (and a PARTCH Ensemble member emeritus) David Johnson, while working closely with world percussion maestro Randy Gloss and resident swing master Joe LaBarbera. As Matt’s musical horizons grew, it was a natural fit for him to join the ranks of the growing Los Angeles phenomenon that was PARTCH Ensemble.

    Harry Partch didn’t make things easy for the performers in his ensembles. There were often new parts to learn on familiar compositions that had been updated to include one (or more) of his newly invented instruments; each of these instruments was informed by the composer’s own notion of the idiosyncratic nature of the instrument in question, and the notation that came with it would reflect this. Whenever a new instrument arrived, it meant new compositions, new parts, and new notation, all unique to that new instrument. In turn, this meant “somebody” had to learn to play these new parts...in PARTCH Ensemble, we more often than not turn to Matt.

    His vast multi-percussion experience serves a much needed role in our group: his ability to travel from instrument to instrument within the ensemble, be it stringed or percussive in nature, has worked to allow the ensemble to vastly expand its playable repertoire. Matt has performed extensively on the Cloud Chamber Bowls, Bass Marimba, Kithara, Harmonic Cannons, Surrogate Kithara, Spoils of War, Diamond Marimba, and Marimba Eroica, as well as performing traditional orchestral percussion instruments on several of the ensemble’s collaborative ventures with composers writing for PARTCH Ensemble with extended instrumentation (see Anne LeBaron’s LSD - The Opera). 

    Challenging as it may seem to the outsider, it is part and parcel with the musical experiences Matt has always chosen to pursue...in fact, the challenge alone was enough to draw Matt’s interest to the ensemble:

    “I was drawn to the unique playing techniques and challenges that Harry's instruments presented. As a percussionist, I'm always searching for new sounds and new challenges to explore.”

    Matt is a highly active member of Los Angeles’ vibrant professional music community: performing regularly on film, television, and other recorded media, he is also a founding member of the illustrious Los Angeles Percussion Quartet (along with another PARTCHian, Nick Terry), as well as a member of the dynamic contemporary music ensemble WildUp. Currently part of the teaching faculty at Fullerton and Ventura Colleges, Matt has recently ventured further in the area of professional Performing Arts administration, working as a Development Director to secure opportunities for various ensembles to continue their mission statement and present their works for public consumption. 

    “I feel that Partch's music is most relevant today as a rewarding live concert experience. The albums give listeners a glimpse into his world, but to really experience the music it requires a fully immersive, live concert experience…[It is] the most unique performing experience that I've ever been a part of. I think Harry would be proud.” 

    Each member in PARTCH Ensemble would echo this sentiment in our own way, but Matt’s words are especially prescient, cutting to the core of what our group is about…come see it Live...as this is the most effective, direct, and transcendent communication of thought. Building connections through performance or recordings, through education or development, or through the sheer joy of sharing moments onstage with friends and colleagues...each a branch of the same tree that roots us in the same reality. And while true that music can transcend the spaces between people, it also acts as the very bridge that connects them. We are honored to work alongside Matt Cook for the vast plethora of talent, experience, knowledge, and follow-through of his artistic and professional vision. 

    Learn more about Matt Cook at his website: www.matthewhcook.com




  • Alison Bjorkedal - Kithara, Surrogate Kithara, Harmonic Canons, Voice

    “[It] occurs regularly...the instant before we start playing; that breathless silence before the first note, when I crouch down to peer through the kithara and connect with each ‘Partchian’...the excitement, the smiles, the trust in each other...that is my favorite moment.”

    Musicians are often asked this very simple question: why do you do what you do? Answers vary from person to person, era after era...variations as numerous as grains of sand. And each musician needs to discover their own personal why, and then cultivate that reason into a drive...that’s the point where it is possible to become an artist. It’s a term that is not to be used lightly; those of us in the business of professional music know when we encounter a visionary, a true artist...while it may not necessarily take one to know one, it does take one to understand that the label does not confer a level, or an aptitude. The label is only that.

    True artistry is transcendent: it goes beyond talent and embraces the full spectrum of a person and their internal motivations and drives. It’s a lifelong journey, and the joy comes by being a willing and conscious participant in said journey. The journey towards true artistry is similar to that of self-realization: only you can walk the walk.

    Composer Harry Partch walked his walk. Many musicians have taken up the walk in the years since Harry’s journey ended in 1974, and have done so with equal parts zeal, love, and madness, with varying results, and of course, a multitude of destinations.

    This month’s Member Spotlight features harpist and resident Kitharian Alison Bjorkedal, a stalwart of the Los Angeles classical, new music, and contemporary music community. As with many members of PARTCH, her personal journey into music began at an early age, where the deep end of the pools of music she was shown suffered her no consternation.

    “I began playing piano at age 3 and cannot remember a time when music was not a daily, integral part of my life.”

    Originally from Kennewick, WA, Alison first encountered the harp in high school, and was able to gain access to an instrument owned by the local school district; from that moment on, Alison’s path was committed to the harp. The path led south from Kennewick, first to the University of Oregon for a Bachelor of Music degree, leading to both Master’s and Doctoral degrees from the University of Southern California. Seeing the musical landscape of Los Angeles as a fruitful bed of opportunity, Alison permanently relocated to southern California, and began quickly making inroads to the broader classical music community.

    In 2011, the path veered suddenly towards Harry Partch: Harry Partch was mentioned, almost as a side note, in an undergraduate music history course. But, sadly, I had not explored his music until…”

    Enter John Schneider.

    “John speaks with such love about the ensemble and its mission of keeping this music alive...I was delighted by the uniqueness and the incredible wit of the music.”

    I will reiterate: it may not take one to know one, but it does take an artist to understand the commitment, the drive necessary to embody the journey of true artistic development, especially as it manifests in another. John recognized it in Alison, and the invitation to join the group was forthcoming, if not altogether expedient.

    “...I could not resist his invitation to learn more…”

    Alison is PARTCH’s resident master of the Kithara, the 72-stringed behemoth of a harp, setting 12 distinct (thought intrinsically related) hexachords formulating Harry Partch’s unique harmonic foundation. Additionally, Alison has performed extensively on the Harmonic Canons, Surrogate Kithara, Cloud Chamber Bowls, and recently added her voice to the ensemble’s rendition of Harry’s beloved Barstow, performing the part of “Marie Blackwell.”

    She serves on the faculty of the California Institute of the Arts, guiding students immersed in their own personal journeys with the harp. Simultaneously, Alison teaches a class in Music Appreciation at Pasadena City College.

    “As a teacher, I observe my students’ bravery and commitment to finding their artistic voices and [Harry] Partch’s music mirrors that exploration and expression in a very unique and inspiring way.”

    Her career as a first-call harpist has featured performances with Sia, Madonna, Nate Ruess, and Kid Cudi; on-screen appearances with Andrea Bocelli and the Pentatonix; appearances with the San Diego Symphony, Pasadena Symphony/Pops Orchestra, Long Beach Opera, and the Long Beach Symphony.

    “Discovering Partch’s music has compelled me to think about music differently. It was very humbling to start fresh learning a new type of music notation and an instrument unlike any other...I hope our journey as an ensemble brings that experience to more people as we work to expand our performance and recording opportunities.”

    The journey towards true transcendent artistry begins with an unspoken desire; there are years then spent seeking, learning, expanding, before self-actualization...before earning the title “artist.” PARTCH Ensemble is fortunate that each member has not only discovered this journey on their own, but that the path led them to the group. From here on out, it is a shared journey, and for one who has considered the path Less Traveled...knowing that it is shared with friends and mates who share the same values has made all the difference. PARTCH is grateful to be sharing this part of our collective journey with Alison Bjorkedal traveling with us.

    Learn more about Alison at alisonbjorkedal.com

     

  • Vicki Ray - Chromolodeon, Harmonic Canons, Kithara

    Each month, a different member of our group is featured in this blog, a spotlight directed from an unseen position and focusing on the person behind the instrument. Each month, a different player fills out the same questionnaire; different responses from different people, obviously, but the questions themselves are designed to reveal something unseen, unknown, about the individual, and specifically, their relationship to Harry’s music.

    One such question: describe your favorite moment with the Ensemble?

    This month, we feature Vicki Ray, and her response to this rather generic question is telling:

    ...I thought I was going to levitate.

    Vicki Ray received her BM from the University of Montana, MM from Arizona State University, and DMA from the University of Southern California; when she’s not levitating with PARTCH, she is regarded as one of the foremost interpreters of modern piano repertoire. A founding member of Piano Spheres, her innovative programming concepts seem to redefine the contemporary piano recital milieu. As a soloist, she has appeared with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Los Angeles Master Chorale, the Blue Rider Ensemble of Toronto, and the German ensemble Compania.

    Another question...another reveal: What drew you to this music, and this ensemble, in the first place?

    I first heard the group at RedCat about ten years ago. I fell in love with the music...like chamber music from Alpha Centauri. I talked to John Schneider immediately after the concert and told him that if he ever needed another player to please keep me in mind. Luckily he did!

    Ah, but the luck, and the pleasure, is all ours...PARTCH Ensemble’s, that is!

    Vicki stayed with the band for 3 seasons, primarily focused on stringed instruments, the Harmonic Canons and Kithara. Soon, however, the piano continued to make larger demands for her time, and she stayed away from the group. In 2017, an opportunity came for Vicki to rejoin the ranks of the Ensemble, this time focusing on the Chromolodeon, but with an abundant portion dedicated to the stringed instruments:

    Depending on what piece we’re doing I move around to different instruments and I love that!

    Currently, Vicki is head of the piano department at the California Institute of the Arts, where she has served on the faculty since 1991. In 2010 she was awarded the first Hal Blaine Chair in Music Performance. For the past eight years she has served on the faculty at the Bang on a Can summer festival at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art. Along with her lifelong explorations of the deeper states of piano being, Vicki composes, improvises, and records, all the while adding to the shared language of modern piano music.

    My musical life continues to morph and change in ways that I never could have predicted.

    The understatement for all members of the PARTCH Ensemble: I never imagined I’d be playing this music, with these musicians, in this city...words echoed time and again by the musicians whose paths come into contact with Partch and his wondrous world of microtonality, and the fantastical instruments of his creation.

    The classical music world is just now starting to catch on to some of the magical worlds of microtonality that Partch was exploring a long time ago. Having a top-notch ensemble in Los Angeles that specializes in his music (and the creation of new music for his instruments) is an important star in the LA new music constellation!

    Vicki Ray is part of the starlight from said constellation in more ways than one, truly one the brightest stars of Los Angeles new music. PARTCH Ensemble is fortunate to have her talent and passion as part of our collective musical family.

    Learn more about Vicki at her website: https://www.vickiray.net

  • Nick Terry - Boo, Cloud Chamber Bowls, Marimba Eroica, Bass Marimba

    Percussionists in the United States have widely embraced Harry Partch’s work as an innovator, as one who raised the broader consciousness of found-object percussion sensibilities: the art of foraging, searching, and imagining sound sources from junkyards, metal shops, and second-hand furniture stores, factor primarily into the mindset of the contemporary percussionist. It’s not the sound of a metal pipe struck with a mallet that percussionists seek: it is the sound of the perfect pipe, struck with the perfect mallet, that sends percussionists on goose chases circumventing traditional music-making approaches, cutting to the core of the matter. It’s a matter of necessity that drives percussionists to become the masters of “everything else,” the instruments that are not winds, brass, or strings yet manage to find their way into the scores of modern music composers. Need a Singing Ringing Tree? Talk to your local percussionist, and one can be built with some elbow grease and a bit of imagination.

    Such was the spirit of Harry Partch, so much so that in 1974, the Percussive Arts Society (PAS) honored him with inclusion into their PAS Hall of Fame.

    The legend of Harry Partch resonates with percussionists all across the world; those reverberations were first heard by PARTCH percussionist Nick Terry during his undergraduate studies at Eastern Illinois University. As is the case with many members of PARTCH past and present, Nick’s encounters with the composer would not carry significant meaning until his musical journey brought him through the doors of the California Institute of the Arts to pursue a master’s degree. David Johnson, then Head of Percussion Studies at CalArts, immediately recognized Nick’s talent and his spirit of adventure. As such, when the opportunity arrived to become part of a band, something different…

    “... it wasn’t something I needed to deliberate on…”of course!” was the answer.”

    Nick was the fourth musician recruited by founder and Music Director John Schneider to join the ensemble that would come to be known as PARTCH. After finishing his MFA degree at CalArts, Nick’s path led him to the University of Southern California to pursue a Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA) degree; by the time he was finished in 2011, California had become home for Nick and his growing family.

    “Back then, I recall being most impressed by the passion, drive, and commitment...The music was so odd sounding…quirky in fact…and yet at every moment of rehearsal and performance, members of the ensemble were smiling and tapping their feet…sometimes dancing wildly.  From the earliest days, our group’s music making has always been a really joyful experience.”

    In PARTCH, Nick performs regularly on the Cloud Chamber Bowls, the Marimba Eroica, Bass Marimba, and the elusive Boo, one of the anchors of the mallet-focused core flowing beneath PARTCH’s current working repertoire.

    “In performing Harry Partch’s music, I remain in awe of his dedication towards his artistic vision...the integrity [with] which he crafted his instruments and presented his music…in his written scores, audio/video recordings, and in his writings. These impressions of Harry help guide me in my own musical pursuits, to be sure, and also in the way that I advise and educate my own students.”

    Currently serving on the faculty of Chapman University in Orange, CA, Nick’s career has brought him to the highest levels of artistry and performance as a contemporary classical percussionist. A founding member of the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet, Nick maintains a robust schedule of performance, recording, and touring with the group. Additionally, he is a founding member of Brightwork, a new music consortium, engaged in the commissioning, creation, and performance of new music for their unique instrumentation.

    A respected member of the Los Angeles classical and new music communities, Nick has performed at such LA institutions as the Walt Disney Concert Hall, the Green Umbrella Series, MOCA, and REDCAT; he has spent several seasons as part of the annual Lucerne Festival in Switzerland, working under famed conductor and composer Pierre Boulez. Nick was part of PARTCH’s 2015 Grammy® Award-winning Plectra and Percussion Dances, in addition to securing two nominations with the Los Angeles Percussion Quartet for their 2013 Rupa-Khandha (nominated in Best Chamber Music Performance and Best Surround Sound Album), released on Sono Luminus.

    The lure into the world of percussion is heard by many, but it is the select few who chase the proverbial rabbit into a world of immense sonic possibilities, endless textural variation, limitless timbral outcomes. The kinship felt by percussionists across all musical communities manifests in the fanatical devotion to sound...truly, to the perfection of sound...at least, the belief that the right sound performed at the right time...may create a scenario that is at once nuanced and informed, at once transcendent and divine.

    In the PARTCH Ensemble, we believe Harry embodied this character as well as anyone. It’s no wonder, then, that a percussionist such as Nick Terry would find his way to a group like ours...for like attracts like, and that magnetic draw can be felt across decades, especially when the energy itself is attached to an instrument. The sound that is struck reverberates, felt across time and space, finding its way to the listeners and lovers of music...but the sound that is unstruck and lies dormant, it is this sound that the percussionist seeks in all that can be perceived. Harry sought this sound...and so does Nick Terry.

    “For me, music is an ever present force and source of endless inspiration...similar, I imagine, to religious devotion.”

  • Alex Wand - Harmonic Canon, Guitar, Surrogate Kithara, Voice

    PARTCH Member Spotlight - March 2019

    Alex Wand

    "I love how Partch extended the idea of what it is to be a composer - [the] design and tuning of these instruments were all compositional choices...integral to the way his music sounds. Perhaps for this reason, Partch described himself as “a philosophic music-man seduced into musical carpentry.” - Alex Wand

    Alex encountered Harry Partch’s music as a student at the University of Michigan, in his freshman composition class. Like so many experiencing Partch for the first time, he was drawn closer by the character of Partch himself, especially how his cross-country transient rail travels against the backdrop of America’s Great Depression seemed intrinsic to Partch’s music.

    “The professor even mentioned that there was an ensemble out in LA that performs Partch’s music. Little did I know that I’d be playing in that very ensemble some years later!”

    Fast forward to 2010: now a student at CalArts en route to a master’s degree, Alex’s interest in microtonal composition deepened after attending Wolfgang Von Schweintz’s intonation workshop. One guest artist at this workshop, John Schneider, brought his own collection of guitars, each with a different intonation system; one of these instruments, the National Steel Guitar, found its way to Alex’s hands.

    “This is how I met John, who, a few years later, asked me to play in the PARTCH Ensemble.”

    Alex’s work on Harmonic Canon, Guitar, and Surrogate Kithara has been a cornerstone feature of PARTCH’s performances and recordings for the past 5 years. Additionally, Alex composes and performs with Desert Magic, an ensemble of CalArts alumni, as well as being an active composer for film, dance, and mixed media presentation. His interactive musical score/installation to Jay Carlon’s choreographic work, “fold, unfold, refold” was featured at the REDCAT Theater’s NOW Festival 2018.

    For his most recent project, Alex completed a 2000-mile bicycle expedition, following the migratory pattern of the monarch butterfly; this journey was documented on his blog, Camino de las Monarcas, featuring musical compositions, field recordings, ecological discoveries, and tales from the bicycle. It is from these seemingly divergent artistic pursuits that Alex draws the inspiration for his composition, his research and investigation, and (much to our delight) his intrinsic understanding of the sound and function of Partch’s instrumentation and tonality, and their application in live and recorded performance.

    In his own words: “On the [piano] keyboard, there are only two kinds of thirds...the major third and the minor third...whereas in Partch’s scale, there are six different thirds. Partch uses these intervals in his music to unlock other-worldly timbres and evoke subtle nuances of emotions. Studying Partch’s unique approach to intonation is incredibly relevant to many composers and musicians looking to creating unique sounds and timbres in their music.

    “When we were recording our upcoming album...there was a driving section in Windsong where T.J. [Troy] and Nick [Terry] trade off percussive phrases and I play a rhythmic vamp on the Harmonic Canon. I remember being so absorbed in the physicality of playing this repetitive rhythm. It was that feeling when you get so into something that you almost forget where you are. After the take, I looked over and Nick and T.J. - they both give a nod as if to say ‘that was the take.’”

    Alex’s rich background in folk and acoustic music, as well as his ecological pursuits, elide into PARTCH’s corporeal sensibilities with a natural grace and elegance. On behalf of the entire PARTCH Ensemble, we are proud and honored to work alongside Alex Wand as a bandmate, contributing artist, and musical family member.

  • Erin Barnes - Diamond Marimba

    [Composer Harry] Partch made a big point of the corporeality of music. HIs instruments and tunings were intended to reach a listener physically…[Partch] wanted performers who were physical presences...and he got them in the likes of Erin Barnes.

    • Mark Swed, Music Critic, Los Angeles Times

    The California Institute of the Arts is one of few accredited institutions in the world that feature music curricula beyond the scope of what is found in a traditional conservatory environment: CalArts boasts programs specializing in North Indian (Hindustani) Classical Music, Balinese and Javanese Gamelan, and Ewe Drumming from Northern Ghana, collectively dubbed World Music Studies. It’s one thing to hear music from these regions and be moved, but another thing entirely to practice these art forms under the guidance of the established masters of the genre; CalArts offers the opportunity to experience both, in significantly meaningful ways.

    As a percussion major at CalArts in the 1990s, Los Angeles-born and raised percussionist Erin Barnes was exposed to all this and more. Early on in her CalArts tenure, her interest in instrument building led her to discover alternative concepts of intonation, and an introduction to the work of Los Angeles-based composer and musicologist Kraig Grady. Kraig’s own brand of microtonal string and percussion music was firmly rooted in theories set forth by (amongst others) composer Harry Partch, and it was through this collaboration that Erin Barnes was first introduced to Partch’s music, and ultimately led to her to the Diamond Marimba, a fixture in virtually every performance of the PARTCH Ensemble.

    “It was...1998, but I think the first piece I heard (of Harry Partch’s) was And on the Seventh Day Petals Fell in Petaluma, or Daphne of the Dunes,” says Erin, when recalling her first experience with Partch’s music. “At that time, I was also deeply immersed in the world of dance, taking several ballet and modern classes a week...When I started playing Partch’s music, I had no idea about his philosophy of corporeality and music. Castor and Pollux, a highly physical piece, was the first piece I learned as a part of this group, and naturally I found myself moving around the instrument a lot. When I later learned that Partch wanted his musicians to move, to have a strong physical connection to the music, it made complete, perfect sense, and I felt deeply that I had found my perfect artistic match.”

    Indeed, Erin’s command of the corporeal Diamond Marimba has become one of the great highlights of all PARTCH Ensemble performances since joining the group in 2003; at that time, the ensemble was but three people, still performing under the name of founder John Schneider’s group Just Strings. Together with Schneider and fellow percussionist (and CalArts mentor) David Johnson, the group performed for two more seasons, recruiting current members Nick Terry and T.J. Troy along the way, before officially establishing the ensemble now known as PARTCH in 2005.

    Beyond the microtonal world of PARTCH, Erin is active in many different musical and educational capacites in the Los Angeles area, performing on the hammered dulcimer, focusing on traditional Celtic, Swedish, and American “Old Time” string music. Recent projects include a return to 1920s Xylophone and novelty Piano music (which also require a 1920s era xylophone, a sudden and preoccupying obsession!). She currently serves on the faculty of the Pasadena Waldorf High School, leading their Percussion Ensemble, and coaches the Violin and Cello sections of the Pasadena Youth Symphony Orchestra. Additionally, Erin is a trained yoga instructor, her work focused on elderly practitioners.

    Yet, it is the spirit of invention championed by Harry Partch himself that engages Erin on a fundamental level, revealing deeper musical meaning through her experiences with PARTCH Ensemble. “The most meaningful memory” she shared, ”...probably my deepest experience as a musician and human being...happened to be with PARTCH.

    “We were at UC Santa Cruz, having played the previous night at Mills College to a large and enthusiastic audience. The Santa Cruz audience was smaller than Mills’, and maybe this set the scene for a more relaxed performance. For a fleeting moment, while playing Pollux (possibly my favorite music to play, ever), I experienced a clear and deep feeling of complete oneness between the music, the sound of the instrument resonating in the hall, myself, and the audience. It was such a calm, powerful, and beautiful moment, and as it occurred, I realized I was conscious of it.”

    While music’s power to transport and inspire imagination has been documented repeatedly throughout all eras of human existence, it is the transformative aspects of music that are more elusive; more likely than not, it’s because the unique nature of these experiences leave little to compare to another’s. Regardless of what inspirations brought Erin Barnes to the music of Harry Partch, it is our PARTCH Ensemble that benefits from her inspiration to stay there, to keep searching for the deeper parallels, the resonances that reach across decades and across people, to arrive at a place where the corporeal interacts with the spiritual...this is where Harry operated, and in that space, Erin Barnes continues to dazzle with the pure physicality that is music in motion.

    “I truly appreciate this group as a mix of wonderful musicians...I feel like I learn so much from everyone in this ensemble. As for Harry, there really is no other music like his.”

  • David Johnson - Member Emeritus

    David Johnson - Member Emeritus

    In 2001, David Johnson was the first musician recruited by John Schneider in his quest to build a new set of Partch instruments, and the fledgling ensemble that would become PARTCH first began. David, then faculty at the California Institute of the Arts, was a central figure in the band until 2016, providing a rehearsal venue and storage for the band’s instruments from 2006 to 2018, as well as tapping several former CalArtians to fill PARTCH’s ever-growing need for performers.

    Originally from Port Angeles, WA, David’s musical upbringing focused around the piano and organ, before settling on percussion as his professional musical voice. His skill set was commensurate with that of a classical percussionist, though his passion lay in jazz and improvised music of his time. The era was the mid-1960s, and after one year of study at Peninsula College in Port Angeles, David transferred to the University of Washington to focus on his Bachelor of Music degree, focused on orchestral percussion.

    A fateful meeting with legendary percussionist John Bergamo would change David’s life permanently. Bergamo had just helped found the California Institute of the Arts, serving as the Institute’s first Head of Percussion Studies (a position held until his resignation in 2002), and was in the midst of a recruiting trip...literally driving up the west coast of the United States, picking up any and all interested students to join him at CalArts. He met David at the University of Washington, and after hearing him play, offered him a full scholarship and ride to California. David jumped in the van and never looked back.

    He completed his undergraduate studies at CalArts, and was immediately recruited to join the Black Earth Percussion Group, one of the nation’s premiere percussion ensembles. He lived in Champagne, Illinois, home of the University of Illinois, and Black Earth’s main academic support. After touring and recording with Black Earth, David settled back in Los Angeles to work and raise a family in 1977. After a brief teaching appointment at the Winword School, David was offered a part-time teaching appointment at CalArts, a position he would remain in for 26 years, eventually taking over for his teacher and mentor Bergamo as CalArts’ Head of Percussion Studies, working with hundreds of students in the percussive arts, including many of the current members still playing in PARTCH.

    In 1970, shortly after arriving in Los Angeles, David met Dean Drummond, fellow percussionist and then resident of San Diego, where he studied and played with composer Harry Partch and his strange family of invented instruments. Dean and David became fast and lifelong friends, with Dean inviting David to visit him in San Diego, to meet Harry and personally experience his musical world. The two friends made the trip together, and the impression Harry Partch left on the young David was enormous. When the opportunity came, years later in 2001, to join a new ensemble focused on the compositional output of Harry Partch, David would not hesitate...and after 15 years, thousands of rehearsal hours and hundreds of concerts, PARTCH would rank as one of David’s highest musical achievements.

    His work as a freelance percussionist in Los Angeles boasts an impressive resume: primary ensembles include XTET, the New Century Players, the Kim Richmond Jazz Orchestra, the Vinny Golia Large Ensemble, Dark Wing, Roger Williams, and the Lian Ensemble. He has worked with the Los Angeles Philharmonic, John Zorn, Pierre Boulez, Wadada Leo Smith, Yusef Lateef, Stuart Copeland, Green Day, Dave Brubeck, and the California Ear Unit; he has performed on over 40 major motion pictures, including Spiderman 3 and The Matrix. A noted composer in his own right, his work Quartz City for vibraphone solo with percussion ensemble won the Percussive Arts Society Composition Competition in 1995; other major works include The Oregon Variations for marimba soloist and percussion quintet, Shape Shifter for vibraphone and marimba, Dark Wing for cello and marimba, and Nine Sheets to the Wind for a mixed chamber ensemble and improviser. His book, “Fifteen Etudes for Vibraphone,” along with his other percussion-based works, are published by MalleTech, and many of his compositions have been  included on the Lian Records Dark Wing CD “The Hidden Sacred” and on “Dual Force,” recorded with guitarist Ken Rosser on the Nine Winds label.

    David retired from CalArts in 2017, and has since relocated to Port Angeles, where he lives and stays musically active performing solo piano renditions of traditional jazz standards, now and always his first musical love. His contributions to PARTCH are numerous and unforgettable, from his first stints behind the Bass Marimba, to the amorphous and deceptively complex Cloud Chamber Bowls, before finally settling behind the Chromolodeon. David’s tri-level residential building in the Mt. Washington neighborhood of Los Angeles would serve as PARTCH’s de facto headquarters for nearly 12 years,  the definitive roof over the ensemble’s head.

    David’s contributions to the band can never be forgotten, and certainly his musicianship, his joy, and his friendship will never be replaced. PARTCH, the band and the music, will be forever richer for his contributions.