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Partch, Harry; GENESIS OF A MUSIC; 1949 ,1974; Da Capo Press, Inc. New York. Copyright 1949, 1974 by Harry Partch. Typed by Barb. Golden, October 1994. excerpts 2220w

The Bewitched__A Dance Satire

Scored for: Solo Soprano-the Witch Surrogate Kithara Piccolo Chromelodeon I Clarinet Cloud-Chamber Bowls Bass Clarinet Spoils of War Cello Diamond Marimba Kithara II (players on both sides) Boo Harmonic Canon II (two players) Bass Marimba Koto Marimba Eroica Performance time: seventy-five to eighty minutes - no intermission. In the summer of 1952, a man visited my studio and suggested that if I would write a series of "backgrounds" for television__for airplane crashes, drownings, and murders in the park, I suppose__I might make a lot of money. But all I could really become interested in were such items as Background Music for Filibusters in the United States Senate, for which I saw little prospect of performance.

However, this idea, plus the fact that in the ensuing years literally dozens of what I could only call lost musicians visited me at my studio in Sausalito, plus an old interest in the ancient idea of the benevolent, all-knowing witch, led to the present work.

In this and the work following (Revelation), I had definite ideas about a set. Some of the large instruments, on risers, dominate the stage. They are connected with the other instruments by a stairway, or rather a nexus of stairways which finally matures into one stairway making its ascent to one of the far corners at the rear (and perhaps continued with paint on canvas to give the impression of hazy endlessness).

The Witch must have virtually a three "octave" range, from the "F#" below "middle C" to the third "E"above. She must also be an actress. She moves about the stage freely and at critical moments takes command as ostensible conductor. The male instrumentalists constitute the Singing chorus; there must be no confusion between the sounds of the female Witch and her male Chorus. Both the Witch and Chorus express themselves only in meaningless syllables.

My notes (here much abbreviated) for the two-record set of The Bewitched put out under the Gate 5 label in 1957 tell the story:

Argument

We are all bewitched, and mostly by accident: the accident of form, color, and sex; of prejudices conditioned from the cradle on up. Those in a long-tenanted rut enjoy larger comforts of mind and body, and as compensation it is more frequently given to others who are not so easily domesticated to become mediums for the transmission of perception. Among these are the lost musicians, and their perceptions may germinate, evolve, and mature in concert, through a developing "at-one-ness," through their beat.

Prologue. The Lost Musicians Mix Magic

The forms of strange instruments are seen dimly on stage. How did they get here? They came on in a dark celestial silence, doing tumbles and handsprings, and for no other purpose than to be discovered by these musicians in this theater before this audience.

One of the musicians turns on his music light and gives a low beat, and others enter and swing in, one at a time. They are neolithic primitives in their unspoken acceptance of magic as real, unconsciously reclaiming an all-but-lost value__lost only about a minute ago in relation to that ancient time when the first single cell moved itself in such autoerotic agitation that it split in two.

In the enveloping ensemble the lost musicians have momentarily found a direction. Their direction becomes a power, and their power a vision: an ancient Witch, a prehistoric seer untouched by either gossip or popular malevolence. She corresponds to the Greek oracle, while the Chorus (the orchestra) - like the chorus of ancient tragedy - is a moral instrument under the power of perceptive suggestion.

The Witch surveys the world, immediately becomes sad and moody, then takes command: "Everybody wants background music," the Witch-like sounds seem to murmur, and the conspiratorial tone is clear even in gibberish.

Scene 1. Three Undergrads Become Transfigured in a Hong Kong Music Hall

The bewitched enter, and the analogy with lyric tragedy is complete: the Chorus, the Perceptive Voice, the Actors. These actors dance their parts, and although they seem always to ignore the person of the Witch and her Chorus, they are nevertheless terribly aware.

The job taken on by the Chorus is, briefly, to divest the undergrads of the confirmed xenophobia that once blanketed them so lovingly in their cradles. The comeuppance is a broad one, far beyond their young years and experience. The exotic__East or West__does not hold more mystery than it ought.

Scene 2. Exercises in Harmony and Counterpoint Are Tried in a Court of Ancient Ritual

Like the Mindanao Deep of the Pacific, the bewitchment in musical conditioning is profound and mysterious. It is indeed so deep that a term such as the scale is accorded a silent and mysterious Mindanaon acceptance as obvious as the robin in spring.

The bewitched exercises in harmony and counterpoint are cast into a sea of ancient rules and ritual. Now the immediate colors are strong and violent, while the distant pastels of the eighteenth century are barely perceptible in the dim, dim future. The unwitched exercises suddenly gaze upon an inspired and apocalyptic new day.

Scene 3. The Romancing of a Pathological Liar comes to an Inspired End

The scene focuses on the sad life story of a boy and man, a pathological liar for one reason: he is pursued by the magic of his fancies just as relentlessly and in the same way that he pursues the object of his fancies. These fancies are his weapon, and he proliferates them before him, only to die many little deaths as they breathe down his neck from behind.

In the jet-stream magic of this night, the Chorus and their Witch find a poetic way out. In a flash the boy's bewitchment abandons him to light momentarily in the temple of his lady-love. Too late, the boy sees himself; out of the corner of his vision he sees a woman with lust in the shaft of her eye. Pursued, he races up the stairway and leaps. A dull thud.

Scene 4. A Soul Tormented by Contemporary Music Finds a Humanizing Alchemy

Of all the sad tales sung by the poets of old, some are sadder than this, some more poignant, many more tragic, but none more pathetic, for this is a scene of conflict that arises out of an absorbing regret over the passage of time__that is, the injustice of having been born at such a miserable time in history as the present. This soul has become so immersed in the bewitchment of some preceding century that he can function only in that century. Even the growing child falls somewhat behind the surge of the modern world because of the shelter of his home, and he must catch up--on his own.

The Chorus whistles dolefully, while the slow beats toll off the neuroses--one by one. The amplitude of the shocks increases. Now utter silence. Breathing loudly in a crescendo of emotion the Chorus brings the climax. The other-century soul has returned to the world of the living through a whole-souled abandonment to slapstick comedy.

Scene 5. Visions Fill the Eyes of a Defeated Basketball Team in the Shower Room

It seems perversely characteristic of the human male to think of his moments of weakness and failure in a female context. he may say: "Today I'm a sick woman," but he does not means that he has changed his sex. For the sake of a moment of magic perception, however, let us impose this idea on the defeated side after a game of basketball.

With the incorrigible of healthy young women dominant, the conclusion comes easily that one defeat in a basketball game is of exceedingly trivial consequence. Immediately thereafter, with the help of a capricious Witch and a conniving Chorus, the women fling themselves into something really important__a wild dance in adulation of a vision of the nude god Hermes, most knavish of the Olympian knaves.

The basketball team, now unwitched, has fallen completely under the charming belief that reality contains a compound of both experience and imagination.

Scene 6. Euphoria Descends a Sausalito Stairway

The scene is one of the landings of a stairway on the steep hills that rise from San Francisco Bay at Sausalito. Adolescent love can make do with whatever it's got, of course, but there is something of poetic justice in placing it among suburban homes where baroque leaps, swoons, and pirouettes, where trunks revolving around necks and other devices of adolescent love in ballet form might attract hardly even second notice.

Anyone can dream of bringing control to a Sausalito love affair, but the Witch actually accomplishes it. Facing each other, the boy and girl now move backward and forward on the stairway--with quiet dignity and tenderness--in a way that suggests eternity.

Scene 7. Two Detectives on the Tail of a Tricky Culprit Turn in Their Badges

Obsession makes this both a melancholy scene and a slapstick love affair. Let cities decay, but never allow even one minor culprit to believe that he does not need those conspicuous gentlemen whose lives are dedicated to the single purpose of complementing his ego!

This culprit is a recidivist. His automatic "Who, Me?" response to interrogation leads to a third, a fourth, and even a fifth degree, each progressively more delightful. With a whistle and a stamp he takes off on a spontaneous angle of his own, and is stopped only when the detectives plead with him to honor the memory of his dead mother.

This is too much for the Witch and Chorus, who waste no time precipitating a crisis. At the scene's end, the unwitched trio tenderly pledge eternal cooperation, to the end that each may achieve the ultimate of fulfillment.

Scene 8. A Court in Its Own Contempt Rises to a Motherly Apotheosis

The scene's gist: the heroes of a matriarchy are the sons who gain public attention in futile rebellion against it, thus making their mothers proud. It begins as a double exposure. Underneath is the quality of the very ancient matriarchy, on top the personalities of a modern trial--judge, attorneys, witness (the accused--the human male--is ambient).

The lady witness tells a sad story, but as things proceed she becomes flippant, even indignant. She is obviously in contempt, and suddenly the Witch wonders about the court itself: hasn't even one court ever become so disgusted with itself as to be in its own contempt?

From the single stroke of a double-bladed axe two events transpire. First, the court--unwitched--exclaims: "Why, this is a matriarchy!" and is in contempt. Second, the lady witness--unwitched--exclaims: "Why, this is a matriarchy!" and administers the citation. His-former-honor moves alone now, with shining eyes, to his lonely apotheosis. Her honor gazes down proudly.

Scene 9. A Lost Political Soul Finds Himself Among the Voteless Women of Paradise

The mood in paradise is static, suspended somewhere between exquisite joy and melancholy. Gyrating fitfully between the layers of his conscious and unconscious, the lost political soul dreams. (He sees the dreadful vision of a confession forced under torture before the League of Women Voters). In vast relief he clutches at this paradise--final refuge of patriarchal entrenchment! And yet, at the same time, how melancholy that there is no electorate to sway.

This conflict gives him the countenance of death. The beautiful houris of paradise are only an inanimate stage set, but even now Transfiguration is moving beside him. The houris, who have very slowly emerged from paradisian refrigeration, have fallen into the houriest of all houri dances. Purged, the lost political soul finds himself functioning contentedly among constituents who played no part in his election.

Scene 10. The Cognoscenti Are Plunged Into a Demonic Descent While at Cocktails

It is soon evident that cognoscenti as subjects for unwitching are by all odds the most difficult, not a heel of Achilles in a drawing-room load. Now, the power of magic seems an unfair advantage, but we must remember that the lost musicians have had encounters with the cognoscenti before, and with humiliating results. Not so tonight. The power they have generated is a bit frightening, even to the cognoscenti.

"Bah!" says the Chorus, and that one word makes up in violent delivery what it lacks in intellectual sparkle. "how extraordinary!" say the cognoscenti, propelled by a chorus of dragons in backward somersaults into the middle of limbo.

Not a bad night's work. "Rrrrrrr__ee__eh!" sings the Witch, and as everyone knows this may be rendered: "I really don't give a raspberry about all this nonsense. Furthermore, it's time you children were in bed."

Epilogue

"Later!" says the Witch, and vanishes. But the lost musicians cannot unwind so fast, and a few of them linger with their beat, as a kind of final refuge. Then, one by one, they wander away, and finally the last turns off his music light and hurries after them.

Like their Witch, the musicians vanish, again to become almost, if not wholly, as bewitched as everyone else. The moment is gone, because perception is a sand flea. It can light only for a moment. Another moment must provide its own sand flea. pp324-340


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