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Our Wagner, Only Better:
Harry Partch, Wild Boy of American Music, Part 1

5,476 words

Harry Partch, June 24, 1901–September 3, 1974

Harry Partch, June 24, 1901–September 3, 1974

Part 1 of 3

“In a healthy culture differing musical philosophies would be coexistent, not mutually exclusive; and they would build from Archean granite, and not, as our one musical system of today builds, from the frame of an inherited keyboard, and from the inherited forms and instruments of Europe’s 18th century. And yet anyone who even toys with the idea of looking beyond these legacies for materials and insight is generally considered foolhardy if not actually a publicity-seeking mountebank.” – Harry Partch, Genesis of a Music 

“The 19th century must have been an enormously comfortable place; no one seems to want to leave it.” – Thomas Mann, Doctor Faustus: The Life of the German Composer Adrian Leverkuhn As Told by a Friend.

“Do not be afraid to be out of tune with the piano. It is the piano that is out of tune. The piano with its tempered scale is a compromise in intonation.” — Pablo Casals

Part One: A Coda on Wagner

I undertook my previous look at Wagner,[1] appropriately enough, in the Nietzschean spirit I have always tried to maintain,[2] reserving my critical work only for those cultural idols of sufficient importance that their take-down would serve a greater cultural good – rather than, for example, the typical internet “flame-war.”

The results were all I could have hoped for! Cascades of evidence that Wagner was, indeed, an unquestioned, unquestionable idol for the Right, the alt-Right, White Nationalists, whatever.[3] A veritable religious cult, with all the Judaic characteristics Kevin MacDonald has discerned in such thought-negating outfits.[4]

All the memes were there. “How dare you counsel our Youth to desert our European Heritage!” As if “youth” had not been fleeing from classical music for well over a century, the process, in fact, more or less complete, to judge by the collapse of the classical record industry.[5] As if it was I responsible for this killing of the younglings. Again, how appropriate; my arguments were derived from Evola, after all, so why not put me on trial for corrupting the young as well?[6]

And all the other tactics beloved by Cardinals and Witchfinders down through the ages, such as ignoratio elenchi: after detailing the flaws in the Western system of intonation, the response: “He hasn’t given us any reason to think so.” And the argumentum ad auctoritatem: “All culture is inherently elitist, who cares what people want to listen to?” (Note the contradiction to the younglings argument, but hey, any tool to hit a heretic). Or again, after noting that by reducing the modes to only two, major and minor, considerable amount of expressiveness are lost, which is why jazz resorts to ‘bent’ or ‘blue’ notes to recover the modes, an argument, basically, that two is less than twenty, the flat assertion “No one familiar with Western music would think so.”

In the words of that great Aryan comedian, Rik Mayall,[7] “I despair, I mean, I really do.”

But then, does he not also say, “Nil desperandum, we’re English and there’s a way out of everything”? And so I will try a different tack, explaining a little more of what’s wrong with Wagner, but then offering a positive, Aryan role model that can guide us out of the morass.

1. What’s Wrong with Wagner, or Western Music?

Partch explained that his musical heresy was due to the fact that most musicians treated equal temperament as if it were “handed out of the clouds of Mount Sinai.” Therefore any important music created with it was sacrosanct.[8]

The Western system of ET is neither natural nor inevitable nor optimal, nor even, as composers as early as Wagner himself realized, particularly rich or useful.[9]

According to Kyle Gann:

Music schools teach that this Big Mac tuning has been around for centuries and represents an immutable endpoint of progress. It’s a lie. . . . There is nothing that musicians take more for granted than the fact that there are twelve pitches to an octave, and that these pitches divide the octave into twelve equal steps. Apparently few musicians question this arrangement, and only a tiny minority can explain whence it arose, why, and from what principles its authority derives. This 12-pitch assumption, however, is far from innocent. Twelve-tone equal temperament, as this common tuning is called, is a 20th-century phenomenon, a blandly homogenous tuning increasingly imposed on all the world’s musics in the name of scientific progress. In short, twelve-tone equal temperament is to tuning what the McDonald’s hamburger is to food.

As the little red haired girl on The Kids in the Hall would say, “It’s a fact.”

The problem with Western music is quite simple, and can be expressed with some quite simple mathematics, since music consists of sounds, sounds are vibrations, and vibrations can be expressed as numbers.[10]

Sound = vibration, thus = frequency. Intervals can be expressed by math. Our perception of pitch is the result of a rapid, and rhythmic, displacement of matter. When an object vibrates it pushes on the surrounding air periodically, resulting in a pulsating pattern of first condensed, then stretched, packets of air. Because the pattern is periodic, if it occurs very slowly it will be perceived as rhythm, but if it occurs faster than about twenty times every second it will be perceived as a tone. The pitch of a vibrating object, consequently, can be traced back to the rate at which it is moving, and in turn, how frequently it is pushing on the air around it. Put more plainly, pitch is measured by vibration speed. (Harlan, p. 26)

Now, if we are to have music, there must, contrary to Pete Townsend, be more than one note, so the question arises, which? Well, sounds are pleasing, or harmonious, when they express a ratio of whole numbers. The simplest of these, of course, would be 1:1, two voices or instruments, perhaps single strings, vibrating at the same rate, called a unison. Next, one might imagine the sounds vibrating in a 2:1 ratio, one twice as fast as the other, the so called octave.[11] To illustrate the octave, and show that such simple modes can be expressive, consider the goosepimply first two notes — Some . . . where — of “Somewhere over the Rainbow,” which is nothing but an octave leap.

OK, so we have two notes, defining a scale; so what notes go in between? Pythagoras, who devised all this for the Greeks, reasoned that the next simplest ratio was 3:2, the so-called perfect fifth, so a system of fifths seems reasonable. Here, however, a problem arises.

Now again, this is not just me talking. Get out your calculator.[12] Let’s take 27.5, the vibration of A, and multiply it 2, and do that 7 times. Now, do it again, but this time multiply it by 1.5 — that is, 3:2 — 7 times, and the answer, you will note, is different, yes?

So, how’s all that science and abstract reasoning working out for you, Western Man? As the Bubble Boy would say, “Not . . . too . . . good, eh?”

In fact, the history of Western Music plays out rather like the climax of the Bubble Boy episode of Seinfeld, with George, the music “theorist” and Grand Poobah, insisting that “the Moops” invaded Spain, because that’s what the Trivial Pursuit card says, while the Bubble Boy, representing the human ear, insists that everyone knows it‘s the Moors, and the card must be misprinted. In short, a whole bunch of attempts to deal with the “extra” vibrations, the so-called “Pythagorean Comma.”

Pythagoras himself suggested — well, with guys like Pythagoras, it was more like “God and Reason command” — that we just gather up all the vibrations in a bunch at the back of the scale’s neck and snip off the excess, like a rich old lady getting a facelift.[13] In practice, this meant rendering one of the intervals deliberately out of tune, but hoping it was obscure enough not to be noticed.

Thus did Western Music receive its ritual circumcision, a theme which we will meet up with again. Perhaps that’s why, as Partch suggested in the quote above, musicians think the ET system was handed down on Mount Sinai.

This kind of adjustment happened again and again, for Faustian Man knows only one direction, Onward![14] Re-examining premises, that’s for sissies! — essentially, the argument of the critics of my Wagner piece.

Now, as Gurdjieff tells us, no change is possible unless a new, Third Force, enters in. This involved Faustian Man’s other obsession, technological development. Now, you might think that technological development would help make the system more accurate, but you’d be wrong, Digital Boy. Western composers were besotted with “modulation” between keys, and also with keyboards. Trouble is, it’s hard to re-tune string instruments and nearly impossible to re-tune keyboards. And even without that hassle, think of all those keys for sharps and flats (yes, Bach had a keyboard with separate keys for each).[15]

Thus was born so-called Equal Temperament, in which — wait for it — every note is out of tune, and thus every note is equal to every other note.

So, every note is forced to be equal, and interchangeable, so that technology can be accommodated, and musicians can have absolute “freedom” from any restrictions imposed by mere nature. Does this sound familiar? Like anything else going on in the 18th century? In France, maybe? And this, my pro-Wagnerians, is of the Right, how exactly?

Thus were all of the dozens of modes, each with its own expressive possibilities, junked in favor of just two, so-called Major and Minor, vaguely signifying some kind of “happy” and “sad.”[16] I bet you were taught that Major and Minor were like Black and White, Zero and One, Left and Right, and other obvious dualities that just are, right? Well, they lied to you again, Bubba.

2A. Who Cares What’s Wrong with Wagner or Western Music?

It is both fascinating and telling that a core principle of Western music theory, the circle of fifths, and a related tuning technique that predominated in ecclesiastical music until the Renaissance, were both predicated on a kind of numerological mysticism. (Harlan, p. 26)

At this point, if my life were an episode of Mad Men, I would be Pete Campbell, rushing into Bert Cooper’s office to reveal Don Draper’s hidden past, and Bert, putting down his copy of The Fountainhead, would give me a pitying look and wearily sigh:

Cooper: Mr. Campbell, who cares?

Campbell: Mr. Cooper, he’s a fraud and a liar, a criminal even!

Cooper: Even if this were true, who cares? This country was built and run by men with worse stories than whatever you’ve imagined here.[17]

Yet, true to my Faustian Spirit, I must push on! This is all wrong!

First, the “circle” of fifths is metaphysically absurd.[18]

The fifths form a spiral whose sounds, coiled around themselves, can never meet. For us, this limitless spiral can be the joint in the center of the world, the narrow gate that will allow us to escape from the appearance of a closed universe, to travel in other worlds and explore their secrets.[19]

Nature is expansive and open, while human logic strives toward standardized metrics and closed loops. In this sense one could state that just intonation is a more natural system, while equal temperament is a more human system. (Harlan, p. 33)

Let’s go back to Pythagoras. His problem arose because the “cycle of fifths” does not yield a circle or cycle, but a spiral. This offended his sense of propriety. Yes, that’s right, Western music is based on Pythagoras’ obsession with circles.

The circumcision of the Pythagorean Comma was referred to by the composer Dane Rudhyar as “The Great Mutation”: the gradual replacement of Mysticism with Rationalism,[20] the beginning of Western man’s privileging of the “rational” notions of his little mind over transcendental truth.[21]

Pythagoras substituted his little mind for metaphysical truth. Reality, as René Guénon documents the brief but intense Symbolism of the Cross, is a spiral, not a circle. It is a screw that spirals upward as it turns at a certain . . . pitch.[22]

Western music was now set adrift, a menace to navigation, cut off from the music of other cultures, such as India and China, whose music was still metaphysically sound;[23] as well as from what should have been its sister sciences — as we have seen, Western musicians eschew acoustics and pretend that their scales are arbitrary combinations of sound miraculously “discovered” when somebody blew into a reed.

2B: “But really, who cares?”

Away with all this metaphysical rigmarole! What about the music? It’s really purdy! (The sum and substance of most of the objections to my previous article; and just as Bert Cooper insisted that lots of great Americans started out as crooks).

It cannot be denied that ET led to an explosion of creativity, of which Wagner is the ultimate example. But ultimate also means final. This creativity was limited to one kind: modulation between keys — and everything else was sacrificed, such as the expressivity of the numerous modes. Wagner was a “Master” of this above all else,[24] but it depends above all on surprise, as more and more discordant intervals are forced into use, and like drug addiction, leads to the inevitable question, “what next?’ Thus the “crisis of tonality” after Wagner, leading to the numerous experiments of the 20th century.

The “crisis of tonality” at the end of the 19th and beginning of the 20th centuries was primarily a crisis of materials. Composers such as Mahler and Wagner had exhausted the rhetorical abilities that the 12 building blocks of tonality would provide. Atonality and 12-tone technique were a means of recycling a new language out of the remnants of a diatonic system. Because of the impossibility for exotic and liberating influences to have any effect on sound (the instruments and tuning are still the same) composers used a high degree of abstraction isomorphic manipulation of these arbitrary materials to convey rhetorically a new kind of music. (The best examples of this are Cage and Xenakis.)[25]

The Pythagorean Scale, having become an all-encompassing system — scales, instruments, notation, schools, concert and opera halls — known as Equal Temperament, had finally revealed itself as a Chinese Finger Trap. We had gone as far as we could, and were now solidly wedged in. As Small says, unconsciously and ominously echoing Evola,

“Those who ride the tiger can never dismount.”[26]

2C: Oh who cares about music anyway?

Small “t” traditionalists have reasons to beef as well. The shiny, new, “modern” Western system, bereft of expressive possibilities but with all the persuasive force of the White Man’s Gatling guns behind it, is one of the chief agents of cultural globalization, as young, with-it types turn away from granddad’s old music, newly urbanized Third World workers demand up-to-date music like they hear in the Western movies and TV shows, and local oligarchies compete with each other in promoting Western symphonies, opera houses, and conservatories. Sure, we practice rural infanticide or female circumcision (there it is again, and not for the last time!), but just listen to Ying Yang or Abu Simsim play that Chopin étude!

The same thing happened Stateside first. After German immigrants established the dominance of their own system of Kultur, native White American traditions of music were wiped out.

Sam Francis described this phenomenon in a column on the National Endowment of the Arts (one of the chief life-support systems for the moribund classical culture) compiled in Shots Fired. He notes,

There used to be a real popular culture in America, not only in Maine and Montana but even in metropolitan areas like New York and Boston. In that veiled and lost epoch, many Americans played musical instruments they were raised to play instead of buying recordings produced by European musicians and Japanese corporations, wrote poetry for themselves instead of puzzling over thin volumes and crippled and bitter verse cranked out by whatever lesbian poetess-in-residence New York publishing houses have decided to make a celebrity for a week, and acted in and sometimes even wrote plays that they produced themselves in local theaters instead of packing the house to gibber over Madonna, Michael Jackson, Wayne’s World, and Nightmare on Elm Street, Part 70.

It’s no surprise that before the German Judaics could take over the mass cultural enterprise, it had first to be thoroughly regimented by those very industrious and hardworking Kultur Germans, determining our tuning system, orchestras, music schools, repertoire (plenty of Wagner!) etc.[27] As usual, the goyim do the hard work, the Judaics then move in and take over.[28]

2D: René and Danny Told You So

“One half of this music, the melody, was all pomade and sugar and sentimentality. The other half was savage, temperamental and vigorous. . . . It was the music of decline. There must have been such music in Rome under the later emperors. Compared with . . . real music it was, naturally, a miserable affair; but so was all our art, all our thought, all our makeshift culture in comparison with real culture.” Hermann Hesse, Steppenwolf

“The Atreides House is building a secret army, using a technique unknown to us; a technique involving sound.” — Padishah Emperor Shaddam IV in Frank Herbert‘s Dune

This spreading global catastrophe spirals us back again to Daniélou and the Traditionalists; just as we saw that music, math and metaphysics are linked, so is metaphysics and anti-globalism; as Alan Watts said, metaphysics is rockily practical.

In the Traditional metaphysics common to the East and West, the act of creation involves sound; entities are called into being (And God said . . . ; in the beginning was the Word). If we were as powerful as God, we too could create, using the correct Names of things. Such is the nature of Magic. Even so, our limited powers are able to approximate such Names, and using music — with proper intervals, of course — we can evoke (Sanskrit vak, Latin vox) beings – “speak of the Devil” — and psychological states.[29]

Certain intervals between tones resonate within the body more than others. According to this view, the most physically compelling intervals are those in the simplest proportions of one to another. (Harlan, p. 5)

Thus the title of Daniélou’s treatise in its revised English language edition: Music and the Power of Sound.[30]

Needless to say, even that reduced level of efficacy is impossible in the Western system, where intervals are inaccurate and their effects are judged to be purely customary or “merely psychological.” Thus, while when a Hindu musician plays a certain raga, even the animals sense the approaching rainstorm, Richard Strauss, at the end of the West’s “progress,” gave up entirely and dragged a wind machine onstage.

Indeed, the effect of random intervals chosen for superficial effects can be positively harmful, both to one’s own body and the body politic.

The Yue ji declares: In periods of disorder, rites are altered and music is licentious. Then sad sounds are lacking in dignity, joyful sounds lack in calm. . . . When the spirit of opposition manifests itself, indecent music comes into being . . . when the spirit or conformity manifests itself, harmonious music appears, . . . So that, under the effect of music, the five social duties are without admixture, the eyes and the ears are clear, the blood and the vital spirits are balanced, habits are reformed, customs are improved, the Empire is in complete peace.” (Cited by M. Courant, “Essai sur la musique classique des Chinois,” Dictionnaire du Conservatoire, pp. 206–207).

By varying the intervals, inventing new combinations solely to create superficial effects, one endangers both the individual soul and the larger soul known as the State, and even the World Soul of the Universe.

George (posing as a Nazi organizer): “Well, it’s just a game. Remember that, kids.”

Tim (a fan of “his” book): “Just a game. He’s so humble. Don’t forget what you wrote in the epilogue, the fate of the world depends on the outcome of this ‘game‘.”

George: “Well, I was exaggerating a bit, just for effect.”[31]

Away with this System, both played out but still dangerous in its very putrescence! Rather than seeking to preserve the Germanic classical heritage like some dead tooth, we must, in the spirit of archeofuturism, return to the roots in our ever present past and “make new” a White Tradition of our own, using our newest technology. In short, Aryan Futurist Music.[32]

Notes

1. “My Wagner Problem — and Ours” here and forthcoming in The Eldritch Evola . . . and Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2013).

2. See Greg Johnson’s interview with me, reprinted in The Homo and the Negro (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012).

3. And how appropriate, that my critics should be exactly the sort that, misinterpreting Nietzsche’s advice to “philosophize with a hammer,” by which he meant “the sounding out of idols . . . , which are here touched with a hammer as with a tuning fork: there are no idols that are older, more assured, more puffed-up — and none more hollow [than Wagner]” – proceed, basing themselves on an understanding of Norse mythology provided by Judaic comic books, to come to his defense, by dreaming of growing great beards and hurling Thor’s hammer at me . . . from their parents basements.

4. See, for example, Chapter 2 of The Culture of Critique regarding Boasian anthropology as a cult.

5. See Norman Lebrecht’s The Life and Death of Classical Music (New York: Doubleday, 2007).

6. Like Socrates, Evola was charged for “corrupting the youth,” and like Socrates in the Apology, Evola issued an Autodifesa (self-defense statement). See “Can Fascism be Critiqued from the Right?,” a review of Evola’s Fascism Viewed from the Right, here. For his part, Harry Partch observed that “the deliberate beguiling of youth into the academic ‘modern idiom’ is worse than an assault on the street. Both are malevolent, but the second is honest” (Gilmore, p. 259).

7. “You have to be black, homosexual and a woman to work at the BBC,” here.

8. Brian Timothy Harlan: One Voice: A Reconciliation of Harry Partch’s Disparate Theories (USC PhD. Dissertation), p. 37; here. Harlan notes on p. 33 that in the 16th century “Pope Gregory XIII proposed a calendar reform that would immediately eliminate ten days from the year 1582. For many, the reaction to this temperament of time was similar to the reaction to the temperament of tone. In both cases it was viewed as being against the natural order, or against God’s plan.”

9. To behold all the wonders of sound otherwise available, consult, if you can find it, Daniélou ‘s Tableau Comparatif des Intervalles Musicaux (Publications de l’Institut français d’indologie, No. 8, 1958), which is “simply a massive table of musical intervals, nothing more. It has 3-limit, 5-limit, 7-limit, and possibly 11-limit ratios. It has ten times as many intervals as Partch’s and Helmholtz’s lists combined, including all 17 fifths of the Arabic system.” http://launch.groups.yahoo.com/group/tuning/message/43210.

One thinks of the flat-footed way “natural” is invoked when human sexuality is discussed on the Right, even the so-called “alt-Right,” as if the customs of Judaic Bedouin imposed on the West were still regarded as self-evidently God-given. See The Origins and Role of Same-Sex Relations in Human Societies (Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2009) by James Neill or Homosexuality and Civilization (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2003) by Louis Crompton. As Daniélou points out in a different context, to posit opposing principles, including Male and Female, ipso facto evokes indefinite degrees in between, which Hindu mythology acknowledges with its pantheon of sexually various gods. See my discussion of this in “Homosexuality, ‘Traditionalism,’ and Really-Existing Tradition” in The Homo and the Negro.

10. Here, however, an immediate problem arises. Musicians, and especially so called “musicologists,” are apt to deny exactly this point, insisting on some mystical essence to their art. It’s as if painters insisted that colors had nothing to do with the spectrum. This kind of bourgeois romanticism is what led Partch to abandon musical “training” in favor of self-education via the public library, where happily he ran across Helmholtz’s On the Sensations of Tone as a Physiological Basis for the Theory of Music (New York: Longmans, Green, 1912) (downloadable from Google Books), a pioneering work that explains all this quite scientifically.

11. Whether the sounds are simultaneous or in sequence is irrelevant; in the first we have a chord, the method of choice in the West, in the other a mode, and the ear is required to make the mathematical connection by memory. Thus the seemingly endless melodies of Arab, Indian, or basically almost any “non-Western” music.

12. Or, just read Christopher Small’s Musicking: The Meanings of Performing and Listening (Middletown, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1998), p. 128, where he kindly lays it all out for you.

13. As Patsy’s doctor suggests: “Just grab her by the scalp, shake her up and down a bit, and chop off the slack.” AbFab, Season One, “Hospital.”

14. As we will see, the ET System will swamp authentic White folk music, but during the so-called Folk Revival Pete Seeger hit the nail squarely on the head: “We were waist deep in the Big Muddy / And the big fool said to push on.”

15. “In order to be able to play music that used complex chord progressions, the musicians of the time needed either to build keyboards with lots of split keys [to allow them to play either a G-sharp or an A-flat, for example, since those two notes did not have the same pitch] (which would have been impractical to play) or to have instruments built with compromise tuning systems that would sound good no matter what chord they played. That is, the tuning system would have to fudge a little here and there. One of the pitches would be raised slightly, another lowered slightly. In such a system, some of the chords would sound a little less pure than they had before, but none of them would sound too bad.” [http://www.musicwords.net/musictech/justtutor/justtutor3.htm]

16. “A melody written in the key of C sounds the same as a melody written in the key of D, and so on. By the same token, every key sounds more or less the same, and the distinct characters of different modes are lost, along with their expressive potential.“ http://musicmavericks.publicradio.org/features/essay_justintonation.html

17. From the Season One’s episode 12, to be followed by one entitled, interestingly, “The Wheel.” I’ll accept the role of weaselly Campbell for the greater good, but although Bert professes not to care, there are interesting parallels between him and Partch. Men of roughly the same generation, both share the same eccentric personality, alternatively endearingly weird and infuriatingly rude, as well as a penchant for goatees. Above all, both are Japanophiles, without betraying the slightest “spiritual” interests. Bert concludes with “The Japanese have a saying. A man is whatever room he is in.”

Having just compared the removal of the comma with circumcision, we can even note Bert’s own secret, known only to Roger and later Don, namely his “botched orchiectomy,” a point that we will also learn links him with Partch.

Even more importantly, Bert’s predilection for Ayn Rand will also link him to Partch. The parallels between Partch and that icon of the Right, Howard Roark, are I think striking. While Partch quit music school rather than being expelled like Roark, both clearly felt contempt for the triviality and irrelevance of their courses and instructors. Partch’s “kind of adolescent auto da fé” of his earlier, conventional works in a potbelly stove recalls the similar scene where Roark burns all the remaining work of his mentor, Henry Cameron. Both Roark and Partch then drop out of respectable society, supporting themselves with manual labor and even, in Partch’s case, riding the rails as a hobo. (A Mad Men episode earlier in Season One explored “The Hobo Code.”) Roark, however, is more like Wagner in his ability to combine individualism and idiosyncrasy with successfully seeking patronage. While Partch was fairly openly homosexual, Roark, though officially straight, has sometimes struck his readers as far more deeply and significantly involved with Gayle [!] Wynan than with Dominique. And while it’s quite easy to imagine Partch delivering the expelled Roark’s speech about standing at the front of no tradition, and with more justification — Roark’s work, at least as seen in the film, seems to easily fit the real-life International Style that goes so well with globalized Equal Temperament — Partch in fact realized, like the Traditionalists in religion, that what was needed was not an impossible, Promethean independence but rather a synoptic grasp of all available traditions, from the Greeks to the Plains Indians, so as to reach the principles behind them and then find a way to express them anew.

Without drifting too far off the subject, one could also imagine Partch as a musical John Galt — Rand’s actual composer character is a recognizable pedestrian Romantic of the sort Partch would have despised, reflecting Rand’s own middlebrow tastes — who drops out of the system and wanders around, hobo-like, seeking converts to create a new musical utopia.

18. “That’s metaphysically absurd. How can I know what you hear?” — Firesign Theatre, Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers.

19. Daniélou, Music and the Power of Sound, p. 8.

20. “Harry Partch: America’s first Microtonal Composer” by Marcus Wolf, here.

21. “You see? YOU SEE?? Your stupid minds! Stupid! STUPID!!!” — Plan Nine from Outer Space.

22. I discuss James and Guénon in “The Corner at the Center of the World” here, also in Aristokratia I, and the forthcoming collection The Eldritch Evola . . . and Others. This was also Guénon’s fundamental objection to the New Agey notions of “reincarnation,” an argument accepted by Evola, Coomaraswamy, and others. The being, as he traverses the possibilities of manifestation at any particular degree, eventually exhausts them all and reaches the center but at the next higher degree, there being no reason for a repetition, within Infinite Possibilities, of possibilities that have already been realized. It should come as no surprise that reincarnation was a favorite doctrine of . . . Pythagoras. Thus do we see that not only are music and mathematics related, but all three, music, math, and metaphysics, are, as the Mediaevals would say, convertible.

23. Like spoken language before Babel, the music of different cultures was once mutually understandable, at least in principle; today, Westerners gape in incomprehension at funny “Oriental” sounding music; as we shall see, even Partch’s work would be called “Oriental-sounding.”

24. Such as the famous Tristan Chord that Bryan Magee’s book takes its name from.

25. Wolf, op. cit. As we’ll see, Partch will eschew abstraction in favor what he’ll call “corporeality,” and indeed devise his own intonation and instruments.

26. Musicking, p. 129; the allusion, of course, is to Baron Evola’s Ride the Tiger.

27. See Understanding Toscanini: How He Became an American Culture-God and Helped Create a New Audience for Old Music by Joseph Horowitz (New York: Knopf, 1987) and Sam Lipman’s hostile review in The New Criterion for May 1989. One might even draw a parallel to sports, where, as Steve Sailer has speculated, European Right-wing populism has survived by its roots in local football clubs, while American sport has been a top-down affair of national universities and big corporations; see “The Real Threat to British Elites” here.

28. This 19th-century Germanic migration is to be distinguished from the earlier migration of dissident Protestants such as the Amish and Mennonites, who not only isolated themselves from American (Englisher) culture, but also had already seceded from the degeneration of their own culture in the post-Buxtehude dégringolade, preserving earlier, truly Aryan folk musical systems. There is more Traditional Aryan spirit in an Amish harvest song than in the entire Ring Cycle. Or consider the music lovingly collected by Harry Smith and published as the multi-record set Anthology of American Folk Music, which kicked off the “folk revival” (“folk,” now there’s a word the Right should like!) by reintroducing recordings of popular musical styles that had disappeared when, due to the Depression, small record companies went bankrupt and only money-making urban “big bands” (broadcasting from atop swank hotels) or opera houses subsidized by robber barons could survive. One could say that the spirit of Bill Kauffman’s Ain’t My America. The Long, Noble History of Antiwar Conservatism and Middle-American Anti-Imperialism (New York: Metropolitan Books, 2008) at least chimes with Greil Marcus’s history of Dylan’s “invisible republic,” The Old, Weird America (revised paperback edition under that title) (New York: Picador, 2011). Indeed, the rule of the ET system over what used to be the people’s music is rather similar to the New Liberalism in which the PRISM system of surveillance is deemed A-OK because it’s been identified with . . . America, the country itself. See “The Snowden Prism” and Justin Raimondo’s comments here. Once more we see how ET/globalization/Neo-con-Neo-Liberalism forms a nice tight circle.

29. Consider, giving credit where credit is due, Wagner’s famous evocation of the Rhine with only a series of figurations of the chord of E flat major

30. See especially Chapter One, “Metaphysical Correspondences.”

31. Episode “The Limo.”

32. As I’ve said in “I’ll Have a White Rock Please,” Varg Virkernes, than whom no one is whiter, more Activist, or more Metal, has shown us the way to what I call Blackened New Age. See the Homo and the Negro.

 

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11 Comments

  1. Magister Ludi
    Posted July 3, 2013 at 8:28 pm | Permalink

    That’s all very nice, but the little I could force myself to listen of that Harry Partch fella sounds like confused noise. This is what our music sounds like: http://youtu.be/X86d3-v0Z8A

    Kennewick man, I also own Paniagua’s CD. I feel a very affectionate tenderness for his thick Spanish accent in the first Delphic hymn to Apollo… The Ensemble Kérylos also did a very similar album, this time with a thick French accent, have you heard it?

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:23 pm | Permalink

      Magister Ludi,

      Love the handle; I’m writing a piece on Evola’s Order State and Hesse’s Castalia!

      Partch would appreciate your honesty. But do remember, all “foreign” music sounds like confused noise, like foreign languages [ba-ba-ba babarians]. One mustn’t mistake one’s native system for ‘the way things are,’ like the French gentleman Twain refers to , who thought French was the most perfect language, because the words occur in the same order one thinks them.

      Danielou lists nearly a hundred intonational systems. How to choose? Heidegger said that one could only philosophize in Greek and German, and he’s unique only in his honesty.

      Also, Partch’s system is a tonal system, unlike Schoenberg et al, and is simply MORE inclusive than ET; you can play all the Wagner you want in Just Intonation (btw, so did Wagner, since ET hadn’t been formalized in his time), but you can play MORE as well!

      • Magister Ludi
        Posted July 4, 2013 at 1:45 am | Permalink

        Heidegger is kinda right, he just forgot Latin. I am not particularly a fan of Wagner, I certainly don’t like him as a person. I would never be friends with him, and I’ve got profound disagreements with his thoughts. Yet for seven years I’ve sent a letter to the Bayreuth festival and —as is tradition— for seven years I was told there were no tickets for me this year. Last year my wait was finally over. I was able to go and sit quietly on a hard uncomfortable wooden bench for about four hours. I repeat, I am not a Wagner. I have to will myself not to fall asleep during Siegfried (where they start retelling everything that happened until that point) and I’m frankly disgusted by his Christian nonsense, but I like to dislike Wagner like one dislikes a very close relative. Like those annoying uncles. There is a common language, I don’t know how else to put it, it’s exactly what you are saying. I understand Wagner. Schoenberg is incomprehensible and unpleasant to me. And equally incomprehensible and unpleasant are those Led Zeppelin endless guitar riffs or those coloured men talking vernacular (the etymology was never more appropriate) over someone else’s music. Like you, I would love for new musical forms of expressions to appear, but I don’t think it likely to happen. Art in general is not possible without a prince. The way I see it, what the artist creates to express himself, or merely to make a few bucks, that’s not art. True art is the result the congruence of a prince (a legitimate ruler who is a leader of his people and has sovereignty), a people, volk, ethnos, whatever you wanna call a group of people relate by blood language and culture and the artist. Wagner is an artist seen that way, and so is Leonardo, Mozart or any great artist in history (Yea, that means Picasso is not an artist). Partch’s experiments with sound might be interesting, but where is his prince?

    • kennewick man
      Posted July 7, 2013 at 3:44 am | Permalink

      Magister Ludi:
      “Kennewick man, I also own Paniagua’s CD. I feel a very affectionate tenderness for his thick Spanish accent in the first Delphic hymn to Apollo… The Ensemble Kérylos also did a very similar album, this time with a thick French accent, have you heard it?”

      I’ve heard of it, but not heard it. Unfortunately I don’t know enough Greek to recognize a Spanish or French accent, but I’ll have to look it up.

  2. Stronza
    Posted July 3, 2013 at 6:48 pm | Permalink

    Must be 35 yr. ago that an acquaintance explained tempered tuning to me, and then, lo & behold, lent me a recording of pieces by Harry Partch. Anyway, this all makes me wonder if our brains changed as a result of constant exposure to, and (some) training in, the ‘new’ system; or, rather, our brains changed over many years from so many other factors and that this resulted in our attraction to what you see as cork-up-the-ass German music. I’m for Option #2.

    Tonal, equal-tempered western classical music isn’t one thing. Look at the vast differences. If it speaks to us it doesn’t matter. Did anybody ever love music because it was based on nature instead of western man’s straitjacketed shenanigans? I wonder if normal healthy westerners want to listen to ragas etc. for anything but to enter some strange internal world of their own. So what if I find this non spiral based music right purdy. We’ll slowly evolve away from that, I guess, just as we evolved into it, but it sure won’t be toward ugly sounds unless we are all literally brain damaged.

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:35 pm | Permalink

      Stronza,

      ‘Progress’ and ‘evolution’ are dangerous terms, at least to a Traditionalist!

      As for ‘our’ music, as I note in the article, it is ET that has robbed us of our traditional, or ‘folk’ music. As I make clear, hopefully, in Part Two, Partch was no “orientalist” but solidly a man of the West, who looked to other cultures — as well as the Greeks! — only to recover what was lost in the 18-19th centuries. We don’t need ragas — Partch as I document hated the ‘beats’ and the whole West Coast avant-garde and likely never heard one, though likely knew the system — but only Our Own Music. But why would that be the music of a 19th century German?

      You are right about the ‘vast’ difference in Western systems, but I had to shrink things down for an article. Strictly speaking, neither Bach nor Wagner was ET, and I would bet none of my critics has ever actually heard Wagner played in the intonation system HE used! They defend Teh System but don’t even notice that Wagner himself has been swallowed up by it — he doesn’t sound “wild’ anymore, not because we have “progressed” but because we no longer recognize the dissonances he used! Danielou, whom I cite in Part Two, lists almost a hundred intonational systems!

      • Stronza
        Posted July 4, 2013 at 3:24 am | Permalink

        This is what I don’t get: why separate out the unnatural, forced equal tempered musical system from all the other depredations committed against our inner nature and the natural world? Anybody can see that the decision to plow land (“black side up/green side down”) and stick seeds into it (instead of hunting & gathering, which limited populations) is one of countless cultural innovations a lot worse than how the octave is now structured, and might be considered the beginning of sorrow; every time we think we are solving a problem, we are in reality creating more at the same time.

        I don’t see the development of ET as anything more than just another symptom. Far as I can tell, you can’t have biologically correct musical structures within the most anti-nature culture imaginable. This “wrong” music and everything around it are indeed all of a piece.

  3. kennewick man
    Posted July 3, 2013 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

    James, this is a fascinating essay. You haven’t yet convinced me to throw out everybody from Bach, an early proponent of the equal tempered tuning, to Mahler, but I couldn’t wait for your second part, so I found a video “Harry Partch and his Strange Musical Instruments,” on youtube. His music immediately made me think of a cd I have that is supposed to include all the surviving ancient Greek music (Musique de la Grece Antique, Atrium Musica Madrid, Gregorio Panlagua, harmonia mundi), and then he showed his version of an ancient Greek instrument, so I didn’t just imagine the connection.

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:12 pm | Permalink

      KM,

      Yes, you are on the right track; in Part Two I list more Partch audio/visual resources, and recommend everyone give themselves a look/listen.

      I also have the Greek disc, but hadn’t thought of listening to it in conjunction with the essay, but I will this holiday weekend. The same group has a remarkable cd of late Mediaeval music, La Spanga, which demonstrates the remarkable range of forgotten instruments. That was the first cd I bought in 1985!

      Not to be a pedant, but it’s interesting to note that Bach did NOT write in ET; his “well tempered” notation was called “equal” because it could make all the keys sound alike [hence, his showpiece, the Well Tempered Klavier], not as in the 20th century, where ET means all the intervals in the scale are the same. Bach could easily modulate, but the keys still had unique sounds, as I note in Part Two.

      Also, there’s no need to demonized Mahler; Partch actually endorses the Die Lied der Erde as an early example of his “corporeal” music!

  4. rhondda
    Posted July 3, 2013 at 1:05 pm | Permalink

    I am speechless. This is soooooo good. I love classical music, but now I get why I like other music too. I hope Part 2 comes soon. Thanks.

    • Posted July 3, 2013 at 10:04 pm | Permalink

      Thanks, Rhondda! Part Two should appear tomorrow, as part of Counter Currents’ Fourth of July Old Weird America celebration!

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