Sow Your Gold in the White Foliated Earth exists first as a curator’s fancy – in this case from Oslo’s Ultima Festival for contemporary music in 2014. The idea was to give revered Norwegian experimental electronic musician Helge Sten, aka Deathprod, access to seminal avant-garde composer Harry Partch’s self-designed, custom-made, specialized, invented instruments – an orchestra tuned to just intonation, using up to 43 intervals instead of the standard 12 for the most commonly used Western equal temperament.
An artist with a 30+ year career and an uncompromising reputation that reflects the emotional specificity of his uneasy, yet compelling sound, maintained throughout his expansive discography, Sten was an intriguing choice for such a project. Although he attended art school, training in electronic music and sound art, he had little experience with acoustic instruments and can neither read nor write music notation. Yet he’s been engaged with Partch’s music, and outsider art more generally, since he was a teenager. His resulting piece/composition for the project was originally intended only for performance by Cologne-based Ensemble Musikfabrik, for a series of concerts in five European cities between 2015 and 2018. It’s Musikfabrik that undertook the painstaking, expensive process of building an entire set of the composer’s creations – the second only to the originals built by Partch himself. They are the professional musicians and virtuosic instrumentalists that had to re-train and re-educate on these unknown and experimental sound sculptures in non-standard tunings. And they house this large, gorgeous physical instrumentarium and deal with the enormous logistics of working with it, sometimes shipping the fragile pieces to other locales via semi-trucks or ships.