Martin Smolka


Valid XHTML 1.0 Strict

Poprawny CSS!

Wooden Clouds (2017-18)

Program Note:


I heard music of Harry Partch first by mid 1980´s. During that period (my student times) in my native Prague, the avant-garde music was not really forbidden but it was hardly available. So I heard my first Partch, the Delusion of the Fury, from a copy of copy of LP during private meeting in some flat. And it became immediately one of my initial fascinations; especially the gliding “trrrrrrr” of Harmonic Canons which brings a bitter-sweet melody in strangely twisted tonality; as well as the unearthly velvet ringing of Cloud Chamber Bowls. This music was absolutely new and unheard-of and at the same time familiar, as if it was part of my home. It sounded to me like old music which became during ages rusty and warped. (Rather than more differentiated tonal system, I heard the old good tonality and pentatonic: crooked.) Crazy, free, wild parody of Music itself! Something truly essential.

The magic of Partch instruments was multiplied by it´s absolute inaccessibility. As I was closed behind the iron curtain, existence of California was to me as unverifiable as of fabulous Atlantis. I could not imagine (I even could not imagine to imagine) that one day I would touch the instruments, which existed in only one specimen on another planet, so to say.

Nowadays, 30 years later, I was allowed to spend days and nights with Partch instruments, to touch them, to learn them, to experiment. It was much more than a dream. I do not know how to express my deep thanks to people of Musikfabrik for their visionary project.

I am happy that I was asked to write for mixture of ordinary instruments and Partch instruments. It allowed me to choose just few:

Harmonic Canons are, in my view, the most original invention of Harry Partch. One makes arpeggio like on harp, but it is playing one clattering tone. There are just few tones but each of them is played by many equal strings – and it sounds like unheard singing. We hear an illusion of huge spaces inside the instrument, multiple echo as in huge cave (huge cave of a puppet size). The 11 equal strings can hardly be tuned exactly to one pitch, another 11 are in distance of some micro-retuned interval, etc.- that is, probably, why many interference beats begin their dance and create the weird branch of echoes.

Cloud Chamber Bowls, when played by harder mallets, could remind tubular bells. But I found out that it can be played pianissimo with huge soft mallets; and then it sounds truly unusual – muted, velvet, like from bottom of ocean. Each of the bells hides inside at least 3 main pitches of different timbres and it is almost impossible to decide, which pitch one hears. Some of them have interference inside, beating among their pitches. I decided to let them play in my piece alone, they have in the 5-movement form a key moments. The rest of the piece can be understood like just covering for the exceptional moments of ringing of Cloud Chamber Bowls. Ringing of the Clouds. Ringing of clouds.

Blow Boy and Crychord I love for their bizarreness. Their sound opens a branch of associations, they remind childhood and comics and cartoons and western-movies. A very human old-timers.

Le charme discret de la Boo is of a similar kind like Harmonic canons, however, this time dry, without the “puppet cave” effect. It can sing (clattering) glissandi, it can mew like wooden cat. A clatter-cat.

Why Wooden Clouds? Clouds as part of untouchable heaven on heights; but made of wood, portrayed in wood by artist who has to manage with matter. I imagine clouds hewed out of timbers, heavy and impractical like Partch instruments. And if one makes an attempt to fly up then, he has to take in account a possible hit on head.

Martin Smolka       Copyright (C) 2015