Observations: Radiohead no Patch on Partch

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The Independent Culture

As musical beefs go this is one of the more lame (and one-sided) brouhahas in recent rock history. A few weeks back, in an interview with music website Spinner UK, Matthew Friedberger of brother-sister duo the Fiery Furnaces took issue with Radiohead's tribute to Harry Patch, declaring: "You brand yourself by brazenly and arbitrarily associating yourself with things that you know people consider cool. That is bogus. So they have a song about Harry Patch... Is it 48 notes to the octave? What does it have to do with Harry Patch?"

Friedberger had seemingly confused Harry Patch, the recently deceased First World War veteran, with Harry Partch, a relatively obscure but celebrated American composer. Partch, who died in 1974, worked in microtones and was famed for his use of a 43-tone scale.

On realising his error – or, in fact, clarifying that he was making a deliberate mistake (it all gets pretty confusing) – Friedberger decided to double down with a sarcastic statement on his band's MySpace: "Of course, Matt never 'misread' any song title, as has been reported... Matt naturally thought it would be interesting to pretend that they wrote a song about the celebrated American composer with a similar sounding name... Matt has not heard the Radiohead song about Harry Patch, as opposed to his imaginary one about Harry Partch, but if he did, he is sure he wouldn't like it."

He then concluded with an out-of-the-blue word for Beck: "Matt would have much preferred to insult Beck but he is too afraid of Scientologists." Radiohead didn't respond to any of this and the "spat" seemed to be petering out until Beck weighed in (tongue firmly in cheek) with an actual tribute song to Harry Partch, utilising the 43-tone scale and various other Partch innovations. It's streaming on Beck.com.

It should probably have ended there, with some decent music, but Friedberger felt obliged to respond to the possible musical zing with more outpourings on his MySpace blog. They're fairly rambling, rather nonsensical, wandering off on various tangents and probably best avoided. It's all a bit pointless really, but at least there are some positives to come from the silliness: a fine new Beck tune and an introduction to a composer most of us knew little about. Time for a lie down.