When I started this site last fall, it was mainly to try and keep myself busy while I figured out what to do next with my life. Well, it turns out that this is a part of that, writing about music and life. But nonetheless, I've tried to keep my music writing decidedly in the "hobby" category as not only is it a super-competitive market, but I also want to say what I want to say and I just can't smile at someone after a shitty performance and say "Great job!" Not in my DNA.
Anyhoo, sycophant journalists aside, it felt more than a bit fateful when I saw that the University of Washington in Seattle would be putting on a performance of Harry Partch's adaptation of Sophocles' Oedipus. You see, I had a best friend who was basically like my little brother and he died a little over four years ago. And when I say little brother, I mean he truly was like my dream little brother; not only did we routinely get mistaken for one another in the tiny city of Wooster, Ohio, but he would take whatever music or book I gave him and absorb it so completely that I still can't quite deal with what a loss it was when he passed.
Being prone to obsessions like myself, one of his was the composer Harry Partch; eccentric composer and creator of a forty-three-note scale, subject of multiple documentaries along with films made during his lifetime, and a homosexual hobo for good measure. To be honest, I always found his music a bit grating--which it is, at first, but spend some time with it and a world of wonders truly does await you--but when I saw the listing in Oedipus in the weekly show list I get as a music preview writer for Seattle's alt-newspaper The Stranger (it's a glamorous life, this) it was like I had written a pitch before I had even processed that information. And lucky enough, it was accepted and published a week or so back.
In it, I focus on how Partch viewed the human voice as being central to his artistic endeavor. As he saw it, when we speak we glide over different micro-tonalities--we don't speak in twelve tones like they do in the opera. Hence the forty-three notes that Partch derived using the ideas of Greek mathematician Pythagoras was his attempt to nail down the countless microtones that we touch upon when we speak. And to extend that idea, which was unfortunately boiled down to one sentence in the edited piece, I realized that this era of detuned-autotuned sing-song-rap is in many ways likely in line with what Partch envisioned had he the technological means. When Partch spoke, he did so in a half-tonal way where it sometimes sounded like he was singing and then he wasn't. This type of sung-not-sung speech has found a contemporary analog in Autotune-assisted rap.
But wait, doesn't Autotune actually eradicate micro tonalities, reconfiguring the voice's nuances so that we hit one of those twelve notes right on the money, like an android? Yes, but in the post-Young Thug/Lil Yachty rap landscape, not so many people rap anymore. Rather, you have thousands of young men and women, like Atlanta's SahBabii, who release catchy-as-hell and menacing half-sung paeans to their daily struggles. And these guys aren't trying to sound like Cher on "Believe" where Autotune helped to enhance her already on-pitch register. Rather, much like Partch did when he spoke, they sing-rap their lyrics in a manner that when processed through Autotune confronts the listener with a polyphony of microtonalities latent in everyday speech. And the reason, I believe, that audiences have been so receptive to the likes of Future and Thugger is not only do they write catchy hooks, but they're hooks that you can really sing along with and not have to worry about sounding like Gloria Estefan (man, I'm really going HAM with the diva references.) Anyhoo, that's likely a piece in and of itself but do check out my Partch article over at The Stranger, where I also do weekly show previews! It's the editorial circle of life.