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  • PARTCHed - April 2019

    ~ A tale of obsession ~
    by John Schneider

    Part IV: Wait, weren’t there TWO Adapted Guitars….?

    On Golden Pond

    SUMMER, 1998 — A family vacation took me to the East Coast, where our long
    tradition of visiting local bookstores is an absolute must. And so it was that in the
    Music section of Hanover, New Hampshire’s delightful Dartmouth College Book
    store that I found the newly released Yale University Press Harry Partch: A
    Biography by Bob Gilmore:

    I had been corresponding with the author for years in my search for information
    about works for solo Adapted Guitar, and knew full well that his decades of research
    would eventually produce this long-awaited magnum opus. In fact, it was at Bob’s
    urging that I added more frets to the “Barstow” guitar to enable performances of the
    30’ solo version of U.S. Highball, as well as the song cycle December 1942, while he
    kindly supplied the scores.

    added frets for Highball, December 1942, Letter from Hobo Pablo:

    So! Back in the car to drive the hour to Squam Lake, with my fingers just itching to open that book. For the next two days at the edge of White Oak Pond, as my children frolicked in the water and for long hours after they went to bed, I devoured this gripping account of Partch’s life. The details of his upbringing, training, discovery of Just Intonation, the many versions of Trails of Music, the construction of and composition for his two dozen instruments, the struggles for recognition, performers and performances, etc. were even more amazing than the myths that had surrounded him. A real page turner. Surely there are moments in each of our lives when, in retrospect, we can clearly see that some event, person, or perhaps even a book would prove absolutely pivotal to our future path. For me, this was that moment. Profoundly inspired by the story of Partch’s epic journey, knowing the deep catalogue of truly extraordinary music he had produced, and having already had the profound experience of having his music under my fingers and in my throat, I just knew that I would never be satisfied only playing that one Adapted Guitar. After all, weren’t there two guitars in Genesis of a Music?

    Upon returning home, it was there that I read about Adapted Guitar II: 

    “It is a Hawaiian type guitar, that is, with a high nut, which allows a ‘steel’ or a heavy brass rod to be pressed down on the strings to make the stops. (Incidentally, the obnoxity of this tonal manipulation to some musicianly ears is due, I am convinced, more to the sugary and pseudo-South Seas music given to the instrument than to any ugliness or sentimentalism in the gliding sound as such.) Four strings are added, making ten in all, and are tuned beginning with a low 4/3…the same tone as the lowest cello string. In the rest of the tuning there is a choice of Otonality (major) or Utonality (minor). The change can be made in about five seconds. Tuning of the two highest strings is varied…

    …Twenty-two stops to produce higher Utonalities and twenty-two stops to
    produce Otonalities are marked on the fingerboard by triangles, the base of
    each triangle representing the stopping point. The triangles are colored to
    correspond with the Chromelodeon color analogy. Tonalities other than those
    indicated are of course determined comparatively. (A few of the secondary
    tonalities are indicated by black triangles.) A narrow piece of thin wood is
    attached to the side of the fingerboard and show ratios—in a melodic
    sense—for the highest 16/9 string (third highest in pitch).

    The strings are mostly guitar and tenor guitar, the exception being a
    mando-cello string for the lowest 4/3. The instrument rests on the player’s
    lap and is generally played with fingers rather than with a pick.

    Oh no! Colored triangles?? The photo in the book was in Black and White, while the numbers on the strip of wood were completely illegible…and I thought that Guitar I had been a challenge! He continues:

    Notation: For Guitar II, where single strings or precise duads or triads are
    very important, the six spaces of the staff plus pairs of ledger lines above and
    beneath the staff represent the ten strings:

    How in the world am I going to reproduce this guitar? Partch gave lots of clues, of course, and also mentioned that the guitar was prominent in the Intrusions, the Dances, the choruses of Oedipus, and in Revelation and Delusion. But did that mean that I was going to have to look at every note in all of those pieces and reverse engineer the ratios the way I had done with Barstow? The answer was simple. Hell, no! How could I? Just knowing the placement of the slide was one thing, but each position produced 10 different notes, one for each string. It would be impossibly difficult. But there was another possible solution…

    Part 5: “Next Stop, San Francisco…”