Julius Eastman, Evil Nigger, 1979
The composer Julius Eastman lived his life veering between irreconcilable extremes. A pioneering figure in minimalism, he sang with Meredith Monk, sat on symposia with Morton Feldman and John Cage. Eastman also faced alcoholism and crack addiction and lived the last months homeless. A sharp, mercurial talent with a self-annihilating temperament, who thrashed himself apart trying to inhabit contradictions.
Evil Nigger begins with a stammering single note on piano that gets its resonance choked off, until it’s just a hammer hitting in dead space. The piece’s smallest piece of DNA is a jittery, repetitive nervous trill and a series of frightening transformations: the trill jingles like glass shards in a grocery bag in the 2nd, dissipates into queasy smoke in the 3rd, flits through irradiated air like mutant fireflies in the 4th. The effect is not so much “prepared piano” as “piano cut free from the time/space continuum”.
- “The Julius Eastman Memory Depot”, Jayson Greene