by Chris Banta
How the original Marimba Eroica began:
Back in the 1950’s, composer, Harry Partch, a philosophic music man seduced into carpentry, designed and built musical instruments to fit his special micro-tonal scales. To accommodate the lower region of the musical spectrum, Harry built a bass marimba using organ pipe resonators and large bars. He decided that the marimba’s lowest Cello C note (at 65.4Hz) was not low enough. This lead to experimentation into contra-bass frequencies powered by oversized marimba bars and huge resonators. Voila!…the Marimba Eroica was born.
How this project began:
John Schneider, who is the founding director of the Grammy® nominated ensemble PARTCH, approached me to discuss the possibilities of my building the Eroica. In his desire to expand the ensemble’s repertoire of Harry Partch compositions, this necessitated the need to include the Marimba Eroica as well. His technical guidance, musical direction, and unwavering confidence in my bass marimba building skills, made this project possible.
Brief Overview of this Instrument:
Weighing in at 847lbs., the resulting instrument has four pitches: A-56Hz, E-42Hz, C-33Hz, and heaven forbid, an infrasonic super low F at 22Hz! The tone of this low F is not detectable by human hearing. Instead, the ear senses the emitted frequency as pressure pulses. Evidence of its function is manifested by the rattling and buzzing of windows, loose objects hanging on walls, and other easily-disturbed things including humans. In fact, during testing one of the neighbors thought he was sensing the start of an earthquake. He walked next door to my shop and immediately recognized the cause of his disturbance.
This new instrument represents the existence of a second Eroica. Though, rumor has it that a 3rd Eroica has been built, by the group musikFabrik, that will be debuted in Cologne, Germany this coming September. The original Partch Eroica currently resides at Montclair State University.