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by Seth Colter Walls

August 23, 2013

Classical Remix: Julius Eastman

by Seth Colter Walls  |  August 23, 2013

Welcome to Rhapsody's Classical Remix Portal, which you can follow here. In every playlist, we present classical works in their original forms. Then, after each one is over, we give you an upstart musician's rethink.

The gay, African American post-minimalist composer Julius Eastman sadly did not live long enough to see his works become part of the contemporary canon. But thanks to the tireless advocacy of performers and friends (as well as critics and new adherents), his legacy of powerful, iconoclastically titled works is gaining prominence. The most recent example of this trend comes from a 2013 album by Jace Clayton (better known to many as DJ/rupture). By taking a couple of Eastman's works for four pianos -- specifically, "Evil N*gg*r" and "Gay Guerilla" -- and using his own digital sampling kit to double (and refract) a smaller battery of two pianos, the DJ did something remarkable: He both reinterpreted and remixed these works, while also providing performances that felt idiomatically correct.

You can hear Clayton's processing effects most clearly at the beginning of Part II of his version of "Evil N*gg*r." But even at subtler junctures, Clayton's interventions are easy to distinguish -- especially since the attached playlist also offers archival recordings of Eastman's original works that the composer supervised at a 1980 concert hosted by the music department at Northwestern University. Fans of modern classical music are indebted to New World Records for releasing those tapes on the album Unjust Malaise -- just as we are to Clayton for offering us another lens through which to view the art of Julius Eastman.

Finally: Given how, toward the end of "Gay Guerilla," Eastman quotes a bit of the spiritual "A Might Fortress Is Our God" (in his own form of classical remixing), we've included Mahalia Jackson's rendition of the tune, as well -- just so you know what to listen for. Enjoy!

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