Julius Eastman Stay On It / The Holy Presence Of Joan D'Arc

Label
Week-End
Released
11th March 2022

Format Info

LP - black vinyl

Julius Eastman is, without a doubt, one of the unsung geniuses of the American avant garde. Although his work is associated with the minimalism, it encompasses a universe of different influences, sound sources and cultural references. Relatively unknown in the wider musical landscape upon his death, the past few year as has seen a gradual flowering of interest in his music, a vibrant, joyous language that can veer from challenging to ecstatic on the turn of a dime.

Stay On It, here recorded in 1973, uses Eastman’s knack for a hooky musical motif, playing it indefinitely in a variety of guises and contexts before it melts into a chaotic freedom lashed with woodwind wails and cat-like textures. The way the jaunty motif resurrects and disseminates into entropy in a powerful cycles encapsultes the name of the piece, almost like the title is a rigid instruction to the musicians.

The Holy Presence Of Joan d’Arc is one of Eastman’s last known compositions, a much darker in tone cry into the void. Swirling strings, rise and swell, threatening to swallow the beholder. Darkness ever on the tip of the ear, with dissonance breaking into weeping violin codas before again being dragged under the tumult. It’s a masterful study in elegy.

In 1973, avant-garde ensemble Creative Associates goes on a tour of Europe with Eastman’s brand new piece in their repertoire, and in short: “Stay on It” turns the coordinates of avant-garde music on its head. It is minimal, but unashamedly groovy; it is open to improvisation, grants performers all the freedom they could need, but it isn’t jazz and never slips into the non-committal. It is open to theatrical and performative elements, but also to the poetic and lyrical. It is strict and demands maximum concentration from its performers, but releases them into playfulness. Once the musicians have gotten used to the discipline, have adopted the groove that Eastman demands of them, a vast field of new connections opens up to them, leading to sublime sonic unions.

“Players may choose to play and repeat the layered cells at their own discretion,” the playing directions for the piece read. And: “Each element (Theme, Cells) may be repeated ad lib. Cues to move to each next section may be visual, or a pre-determined musical cue.” It is clear that Eastman is writing for a collective of intelligent, cooperative, well-informed musicians. “Stay on It” is about respect, mutual support in seeking and finding, about an openness to the world, in which people strive for self-liberation and in which the boundaries between classical and pop music collapse, because they represent false hierarchies.

1973 – Eastman has a stipend at the University at Buffalo’s Center for the Creative and Performing Arts, he is taught by Morton Feldman, fostered by legendary conductor Lukas Foss, is already known as a singer and performer, and Petr Kotik and the Creative Associates finally want to put his pieces on the concert stage. And everyone knows: Julius Eastman is serious about there being a close link between political change and musical emancipation.

Cut to 1981. Eastman releases “The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc”. Where has the lightness gone? The relation to pop music? The love for the musicians who have to develop the piece during its performance? “The Holy Presence of Joan d’Arc” sounds like heavy metal: forceful, dark, urgent, sawing – and then lamenting, heartbreaking. Eastman writes a programme text for the premiere, in which he pronounces the piece “a reminder to those who think that they can destroy liberators by acts of treachery, malice, and murder. They forget that the mind has memory. They forget that Good Character is the foundation of all acts. They think that no one sees the corruption of their deeds, and like all organizations (especially governments and religious organizations), they oppress in order to perpetuate themselves. Their methods of oppression are legion, but when they find that their more subtle methods are failing, they resort to murder. Even now in my own country, my own p

”Stay On It” recorded in concert at SUNY Buffalo on December 16, 1973. Clarinet – Amrom Chodos Percussion – Dennis Kahle, Jan Williams, Piano – Petr Kotik, Saxophone – Doug Gaston, Joseph Ford, Violin – Benjamin Hudson, Voice – Georgia Mitoff

”The Holy Presence Of Joan D‘Arc” recorded at Third Street Music Settlement, New York City, date unknown. Cello – Abby Newton, Barry Gold, Chase Morrison, Christine Gummere, David Sabee, Jodi Beder, Julie Green, Larry Rawdon, Maureen Hynes, Sarah Carter, Conductor – Julius Eastman, Engineer – Steve Cellum.