Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Happy Halloween from Harry Partch

-portrait by Jonathan Williams
Two recent, similar, guitars. The top one was built for Sufjan Stevens and the bottom one, shown leaning against the amp, (and came first) made for Bryce Dessner of The National. The old-growth Western NC cherry wood was once a kitchen shelf in a cottage at Skywinding Farm in Scaly Mountain, North Carolina. Remarkable wood. Super dark and dense wood. Tap it and it sounds like porcelain.
Before the orange paint was unleashed (looks like a coat of puce Sherwin Williams under there too) in the 60s or 70s, this cottage (for a summer in the 1950s) once housed the great, avant garde composer, Harry Partch. Partch was the guest of poet Jonathan Williams though I wonder how much composition could have been accomplished as Partch built a large fieldstone terrace above the main house which could have taken all or most of the summer. Whether the terrace was a thank you for room and board or he was hired by Williams' parents is unknown. One summer Williams, Thomas Meyer, and myself would often dine on the 'Partch terrace' and on occasion bring out a portable record player to listen to the original vinyl issues of his compositions while we dined! Harry Partch is the inventor/builder of many instruments including the Whang-Gun, the Quadrangularis Rerversum, Cloud Chamber Bowls, the Zymo-Xyl, and the Kitharas.

Whether or not Partch composed during his Scaly Mountain visit there was inspiration for a future composition. One Saturday evening that summer, Jonathan Williams brought Partch to the (Macon) county seat of Franklin to show him mountain clog dancing at the Courthouse square. As a result, Partch was inspired to compose Revelation in the Courthouse Park.
Anyway, I like to think that the cherry lumber (recycled from recent renovations to the cottage) soaked up lots of Harry Partch ju-ju. -Or he at least set a can of baked beans or tomato soup on the shelf.

Both guitars are fitted with a single, Jason Lollar Chicago Steel pickup which is based on Oahu lap steel pickups from the 40s. It's built like an iceberg! Huge magnets lurk underneath. No other pickup sounds like it. I believe Lollar intends the pickup to be used in the bridge position but it sounds damn good in the middle position. Sharpie marker was used to color the sides of both and Sufjan's version is slightly smaller than Bryce's.

Bryce and his brother Aaron have been a tremendous help in the Old Style R&D department this year. More on the Dessners in a future post. Stay tuned.

No comments:

Post a Comment