The American composer and inventor Harry Partch (1901-1974) had lots of unusual ideas. Dissatisfied with the sounds that Western music could offer, he became interested in exotic scales that made use of the microtones lying between standard notes. Eventually, he came up with new scales, which divided an octave into 43 notes instead of the 12 that most of us know best.
Because few instruments could play the music he wrote using these scales, Partch decided to build his own. The strikingly odd string, keyboard, and percussion instruments he created over the course of 40 years had fanciful names like the Chromelodeon, the Zymo-Xyl, the Cloud Chamber Bowls, and the Quadrangularis Reversum. That last one, built in 1965, is the monumental contraption you see pictured on this page.
Essentially, the Quadrangularis Reversum is a giant marimba—79 inches tall, 103 inches wide across the top—made of African padauk, eucalyptus, redwood, and bamboo. It expands on an earlier Partch invention, the Diamond Marimba, so called because its wooden bars are configured in a diamond shape. The 36 blocks in the center of the Quadrangularis also form a diamond, but their order of pitches is an upside-down-and-backwards version of the Diamond Marimba’s (that’s where the “Reversum” comes in). The other 20 blocks—10 on the left, 10 on the right—are for lower-register melodies.
Partch wasn’t exactly a jazzman, but he did love Gerry Mulligan’s early-’50s quartet with Chet Baker, and even wrote a piece for Mulligan and Baker called Ulysses at the Edge of the World. Sadly, those paragons of West Coast cool never performed it. It may have been difficult for them to do so, because Partch’s style of music notation—a sort of cross between guitar tablature and mathematical formulae—is so idiosyncratic that most classically trained players have little idea what to do with it. Similarly, his strange scales make it difficult to incorporate the instruments he built into any music other than his own.
All the same, Partch’s unique compositions and inventions have long fascinated many jazz musicians, and they’ve become the focus of intense study in the decades since his death. In November 2014, his instruments, including the Quadrangularis Reversum, were moved from their longtime home in New Jersey at Montclair State University’s Harry Partch Institute and took up residence at the University of Washington’s School of Music in Seattle, where they should continue to inspire scholars, performers, and listeners for years to come.
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Okay, some might consider pink an odd color choice for a vibraphone mallet—but then again, it got your attention, didn’t it? The hue of the blended yarn at the business end of Innovative Percussion’s DT1 Drew Tucker signature vibes mallet isn’t the only thing that sets it apart. Its extended-length rattan shaft allows performers to look and sound like traditional two-mallet players while wielding four (the DT1’s total length is 15 ½”), and the warmth of the yarn is paired with a unique synthetic core that helps further expressiveness.