PARTCH Member Spotlight - March 2019
"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.