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  • PARTCHed - June 2019

    ~ A tale of obsession ~
    by John Schneider

    Part 6 - Hello, eBay...

    When my 1975 Martin D-12-28 arrived, it went straight to Greg Brandt’s shop, where he removed the frets, and laboriously ground down the Ebony fingerboard to a quarter of its original height, polishing the surface to ready it for the triangles to come. He also copied the original bridge, and replacing the initial six pairs with ten equally spaced holes:

    Off to the hobby store to buy six little glass bottles of Testor’s Enamel Paint in red, orange, yellow, green, blue, and violet. Time to paint the triangles! It took almost a month to paint the dozens and dozens of triangles, as each tiny triangle needed a day or so to dry before I could safely use the masking tape to paint those that abutted it.

    In the end, there were 142 of them, and as you can see by the patterns, some were monochrome (black = secondary ratios) or two-tone (primary ratios), while some were subdivided into four parts. Several were divided into 14 tiny triangles in 7 separate colors, indicating that the 1/1 G note that it could function as the root, 3rd, 5th, 7th, 9th, or 11th of various different tonalities:

    Mind you, those 142 triangles only described the pitches produced on some of the strings, the lower chain of compound triangles showing the notes for the 3rd, 7th and 9th strings that were all tuned to F (16/9), while it turned out that the upper line revealed the pitch identities found on the 5th, 7th, and 10th strings that were three octaves of C (4/3):

    [low ] C – F – C – F – Ab – C – Eb – F – F# – Gb [high]

    The plexiglass slide would then move to the base of the triangle (the widest part always on the right side from the player’s point-of-view) to produce the wanted pitch:

    But what if he wanted a note on one of the other four strings? Partch used a kind of tablature that showed which string to play, and where to put the slide using either the top line of triangles or the bottom, depending which tuning he was using. So the ratio in the score tells the performer where to put the slide, not the resultant pitch. In the opening of The Crane (1949), we learn that the guitar is tuned in the ‘minor’ or Utonality tuning that will use the lower row of triangles. The first guitar chord uses all ten strings strummed low to high, and the slide should be placed at the base of the multicolored triangle, indicated by the 1/1 on the white list of ratios on the New Adapted Guitar above:

    The opening vocal note, however, was in fact an 11/9 on the 7 th string, but the (20/11) below it also refers to where the slide would be if one was using the lower line of triangles. Hmmm. So in making my copy of the instrument, I added another row of ratios on the bass side of the strings to supplement those on the treble side as found on his ‘ratio ruler.’

    It must also be remembered that not only did Partch’s Monophonic Scale have 43-tones to the octave, he actually used many more than that. And yet, this Adapted Guitar only has 14 triangles per octave. Why!? Simplicity, really. (He used the same concept on his Adapted Viola, marking only 29 notes out of 43, as we will see in an upcoming edition of PARTCHed.) The triangles are landmarks, but the performer must know where all of the ratios live between them. No small task!

    This is, by the way, just one of the reasons that Partch’s music has remained such a mystery for all of these decades. The musicologists, composers, performers and critics that are tacitly responsible for carrying on traditions of the past have had an impossible task when confronted by two dozen unique tablatures for even more exquisitely singular instruments. But fear not—that is starting to change!

    After all of the tiny triangles had dried on the new instrument, it was time to figure out what gauge strings to use, since the open strings went as low as the Cello C2 (~65Hz) up to F#4 (~370Hz) which meant a .076” mando-cello string for the lowest note down to a .009” for the highest:

    Luckily, Partch himself had recorded the Three Intrusions—“The Crane” as well as two others called “The Rose” and “The Waterfall”—in 1950, so I knew exactly what the instrument should sound like. Tuned up and ready to go, a full year after I had first held Partch’s instrument in San Francisco, I hit that first chord…and it was exactly right:

    I was thrilled – those haunting harmonies were finally there beneath my fingers, giving me shivers down my spine. There was only one problem…there was no music for solo Adapted Guitar II! In order to play those Three Intrusions (1949), I would need a marimba. And not just any marimba either, but one shaped like a Diamond…

    Stay tuned for Part 6 - “Diamonds are Forever…”