Harry Partch and Lou Harrison's Experimental Musical Instruments

Who were Harry Partch and Lou Harrison?

Harry Partch and Lou Harrison were both prominent 20th-century American composers who built their own experimental musical instruments. Telling the stories of these artists in full involves many considerations -- Partch's influences from Japanese kabuki theater & life as a transient in Depression-era work camps, along with Harrison's pacifism, gay activism, and interest in Indonesian gamelan music. These aspects of Partch and Harrison's lives will be discussed, but for the purpose of maintaining a manageable scope and clear focus, this history will primarily focus on the instruments they built and how these instruments informed Partch and Harrison's musical philosophies and compositional aesthetics.

What to expect

This website is organized chronologically. After this introduction to the website, the Background page provides important context about experimental music in 20th-century America. Next, the First Experiments, Developing Styles, and Mature Incarnations pages each cover a different phase of Partch and Harrison's compositional evolutions. On these pages, one featured composition for each composer will serve to illustrate a discussion of their changing styles and musical philosophies. Finally, the Legacies & Impact page will feature an overview of the ways in which these composers have impacted contemporary classical music. This will be followed by an explanation of the ways that Partch and Harrion's idiosyncratic approaches may have limited the proliferation of their music and a wider discussion of the trade-offs that exist between originality and accessibility.

How to use this website

Each page on this website is made up of a selection of text, images, and videos that combine to tell the story of Partch and Harrison's unique musical instruments. At the bottom of each page are a Table of Contents, as well as "Back" and "Next" buttons, that can be used to navigate through the chronologically-organized pages on the website.

Table of Contents