[Julius Eastman (left) and Nemo]
After Performa approached me about the radioplay I went off on long lines of investigation which crescendoed around the incredible, and, yes, tragic life of gay black NYC composer, Julius Eastman.
As Mary Leach writes about trying to gather his scattered work:
“Thus began an almost quixotic seven-year search for the music of Julius Eastman who died in 1990 and whose final years were a life spiraled out of control to the point where he was living in Tompkins Square Park. He’d been evicted from his apartment in the East Villageâ€”the sheriff having dumped his possessions onto the street. Julius made no effort to recover any of his music. . . One of the problems of writing about Julius is that it is difficult to state anything with certainty.”
How The Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner fits into all this will (trust me) be a surprise. This I can say: it takes a village to stage a radio play before a live audience, so for The Julius Eastman Memorial Dinner, I’ve brought aboard several pianists and voice-actors, among them Emily Manzo and Sharifa Rhodes-Pitts. Radio was central to my musical upbringing and remains something I’m committed to, so the opportunity to create new work expressly for the medium is fantastic.
Performa Radio goes down at WNYC’s Greene Space. Other participants – radioplaywrights? wireless dramatists? – include Tom McCarthy (“but now I want you to do nothing even slower” ), Marianne Vitale, and Hari Kunzru.
They say: “For Performa 11, Performa Radio explores the literary legacy of the first mass medium, the radio broadcast. Just as early radio and sound recording influenced the modernist literature of Edgar Allan Poe, StÃ©phane MallarmÃ©, Paul ValÃ©ry, Jules Verne, and Antonin Artaud, what effects will digital radio have for the forms of literature and the development of the narrative play? Leading figures in the fields of literature, art, and music will be commissioned to write short plays, to be performed live at WNYCâ€™s Greene Space and streamed on the Performa website.”
[another night at the laundromat]
In 2005 New World Records released a 3-CD set of Eastman’s music, which was generally associated with downtown minimalism. You can download the liner notes [PDF]. Below is a recording of “Evil Nigger” (1979) here played on four pianos with Eastman himself. One Two Three Four!