Harry Partch: A Catalyst for Queer Compositionism

Saunders, W. 2019. Harry Partch: A Catalyst for Queer Compositionism. PhD thesis University of Westminster Westminster School of Arts

TitleHarry Partch: A Catalyst for Queer Compositionism
TypePhD thesis
AuthorsSaunders, W.

My encounter with Harry Partch - mediated through recordings, films, and sleeve photographs - is taken as an interpellative hail (Althusser, 2014) to inquire into his legacy. As a queer musician, I re-articulate Partch’s volatility and (apparent) inability to collaborate, positing that he presented his personhood as hybridised with his self-built instruments, precarious home-studios, audio equipment, microtonal systems, published writings, records, sleeve notes, etc. I champion this hybridised personhood as a queer expression of his epistemology of the closet
(Sedgwick, 2008), asking whether this notion applies to what I have coined a queer compositionist stance in collaborative performance projects.
Partch collaborated intimately with the human and nonhuman agents (Latour, 2007) that he assembled into his life’s work. I see his protectionism of this assemblage not simply as outsiderism, but as a queer utopian message to arm oneself against the inertia (Becker, 1995) of normalising forces. A methodology centred around Bruno Latour supports this notion. In this regard, I follow the lead of Benjamin Piekut’s scholarship on musical experimentalism. I ask whether the kind of networked hybridity that Latour has us pay attention to could relate to queer negotiations of the closet. Can a re-articulation of Harry Partch’s life’s work as a mediation of his personhood foreground ephemeral evidence (Muñoz 1996) of his ambivalent use of outsider labels? How can this speculation be used as a catalyst for a queer orientation of collaborative performance projects?
The queer Partch that emerges from these questions haunts a series of collaborative performance projects that have offered practice-based contexts for an enquiry into my proposed queer compositionist stance. This stance foregrounds a quiet insistence on project-specific musical principles, not based on authorial signature, but on closet-like assemblages of conceptually integrated elements. In my accounts of the project’s developments, I have exposed queer compositionism as offering a unique contribution to hauntological approaches to music production.

Publication dates
PublishedApr 2019

Permalink - https://westminsterresearch.westminster.ac.uk/item/qv97w/harry-partch-a-catalyst-for-queer-compositionism

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