Saturday, 19 February 2011

Julius Eastman

It snowed today. Not a lot. Just enough for me to look out the window and wonder what we were in for - would it be a drab, wet weekend, or would we find ourselves stuck in a few feet of the white stuff? Six hours later, it looks like it's the drab, wet option. And there's not even anything decent on TV.

Researching my recent post about Charles Ives, I made what was, for me, a new discovery. Ives was perhaps the first of many highly individualistic American composers who were not in the least afraid to do things "their way": John Cage and Harry Partch spring to mind as examples, and I'm sure there are many others. They have always intrigued me. The gay African-American composer Julius Eastman (1940-1990) was one I wasn't familiar with.

Eastman was both a composer and a singer. He also played the piano and turned his hand to choreography. He pursued what seemed to be developing into successful career (he sang the title part on on the 1973 Grammy-nominated Nonesuch recording of Peter Maxwell Davies's Eight Songs for a Mad King). However, after 1983 his life began to fall apart. He became dependent on alcohol. By the time he died of a heart attack in 1990 he'd faded into obscurity. It was eight months before anyone wrote an obituary and what was left of his music has been difficult to piece together (but not impossible, thanks to the hard work of his admirers). This piece, Evil Nigger(1979), with its minimalist texture and provocative title, is one of his better-known works.

I've recently started a new blog -well, sort of a blog- which I've called The Mousehole.

I say sort of a blog, as it's just a "no frills" list of things I've come across on the internet that I feel are worth noting. It's a sort of online bookmarks, a place for things I probably won't get round to writing longer posts about. So far it's mostly music - but I doubt it'll stay that way. I'm almost not bothered if nobody visits it but me - but it's there, if anybody wants to delve into it.


Titus said...

Thanks Dominic, I'd never heard of Eastman.
There's an exhibition of Cage's paintings at the Hunterian in Glasgow for the next few weeks, plus some musical performances to accompany it. I will be popping in.

swiss said...

that was brilliant!! loved the 1,2,3,4!! thanks for that.

Rachel Fenton said...

Dominic, you always bring such interesting things to the table - thank you - I'll pop over to your new blog by and by.

Eastman's story is a sad one but what an amazing guy!

patteran said...

Arresting stuff. Shades of Glass, Nyman, even Keith Jarrett (or maybe shades in them of him!) Thanks for this. I shall go and be an early stat at the new blog shortly!

Gwilym Williams said...

Dominic, a good idea your mousehole - just had a look at dwarf seneb and his family - i'm a glutton for this offbeat stuff - gimme more!

tony said...

Eastman Sounds Like The Real Deal.A Sad Story Whenever Someone Puts Life+Soul Into Their Art & It Is Not Seen.
The mousehole aint cheezy at all!

The Weaver of Grass said...

Shall pop for a look down your mousehole as this is definitely not the music for me.