Peter Sabat : films
works   contact   Plainsound home

BITTER MUSIC (2002/2007)
documentary music film

Peter Sabat : film / Harry Partch : music
Marc Sabat : arrangement, adapted viola / Walter Zimmermann : voice

premiere: TUESDAY, DECEMBER 2 2008 at 6 PM
Kleiner Vortragsaal, UdK Bundesallee, Berlin

“BITTER MUSIC” unfolds as a musical documentary reconstructing the journal/song cycle of the same title by iconoclastic American composer Harry Partch (1901-1974) written during the eight months he spent as a hobo during the Depression of 1935. In attempting to express Partch’s world, a series of musical fragments and texts frame an impressionistic narrative from a contemporary perspective, which revise upon Partch’s original work. His vision of America is reflected in our own.

At about the time Partch’s “Bitter Music” was written, American musical culture (unlike its European counterpart) found its influences in everyday vernacular sounds - amateur brass bands, gospel hymns and the working songs of American life. Among Partch’s contemporaries, Charles Ives, Aaron Copland and John Cage also drew on this material to define and icononize a uniquely “American” sound. Like the photographs of Walker Evans, here was a desire to precisely document and define daily life.

Over one hundred years after his birth, the provocative music and ideas of the American experimental composer Harry Partch continue to inspire and challenge new generations of musicians. The bond between spoken language and music inspired his earliest compositions. His contact with writings by the 19th century German founder of acoustics and psychoacoustics, Hermann von Helmholtz, led him to abandon the European 12-tone tempered system, developing his own 43-tone scale derived from the pitch relations of harmonic partials, known as Just Intonation. Partch began adapting and building instruments to realize the new sounds he imagined. His work demanded that musicians must be trained to hear the intervals of his tonal system, and to realize them on instruments. Specifically because of these technical challenges, actual realizations of his music are rare.

I am first and last a composer. I have been provoked into becoming a musical theorist, an instrument builder, a musical apostate, and a musical idealist, simply because I have been a demanding composer.
- Harry Partch


Unless otherwise indicated, files are made available under a Creative Commons license for artistic and educational purposes. Commercial use without explicit permission of the authors is not permitted.