The Great Return

this again

The mailer is back, the pod is … also back!

Regular readers know that CDA is an all-or-nothing enterprise: operations are either ticking over, or dormant, and nowhere in between. Recently there’s been work. As a result we’ve got a brace of offerings. The first is what you’re reading now, a mailer looking at the complexities of the upcoming performance season. The second is a podcast that started under my jurisdiction but has now taken on a whole other life of its own. Win some, lose some.

Have a good weekend, thanks for reading.

Will


The CDA podcast returns

On the new CDA pod we’ve got a blockbuster interview with Gustavo Dudamel!*** Plus we audition some marketing ideas ensembles can use to win back audiences: Orchestra Roulette? Quartet Fight Club? Reverse psychology? ….. weed? Why not! And our hosts try and fail to read some advertisements.

The CDA podcast is the only classical music pod hosted entirely by AI, without the intervention of human producers, human engineers, or humans, period. You can subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Soundcloud, or just click the player to listen.

***There are technicalities here that are being glossed over for promotional purposes.

The ‘Great’ ‘Return’

We’ve dealt with setbacks and myriad bullshit indignities of a pandemic that’s so old that the final season of M*A*S*H was still airing when it first began. [Edit: fact-check this.] We’re ready to move on, we’ve been ready. While we’re seeing positive signs — future orchestra seasons tendered! outdoor music all summer! — there will be setbacks. Covid’s here to stay.

Last year, wayyy back in prehistoric April 2020, Zach Finkelstein’s Middle Class Artist imagined what concert halls might look like when business came back online. He called it “The Post-Covid Concert Hall Catastrophe,” — post-Covid! how quaint — and looked at how social distancing might work in a place like the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s Symphony Hall. The word “catastrophe” tells you how well Finkelstein expected this to go. The problem, as you’ll read, is that orchestras want to fill seats like champagne flutes at the head table of a wedding. But it’s not so easy.

For the 96 concerts in the BSO’s Winter Season, only about 16% of their entire yearly programming, the social distancing ticket model could result in a drop of nearly $9 million in a few months.


Now pulling back to Symphony Hall again: how much would the symphony have to charge to make the same as in the 2018-2019 season (2,120 seats sold, $57 a ticket)?
If we consider $57 the average ticket price, they will have to charge over four times as much for the average ticket to maintain the same revenue as last season: $246 a ticket.

Not great! And this for an institute of some stature and means. I reiterate this was written over a year ago when we were relatively stupid about Covid’s spread, and there were no vaccines available, just bleach and sunlight. And we’re not assessing outdoor performance spaces here either, only indoor shows. But it’s an important note of caution to sound amid the no-holds-barred, street-rules-only, falls-count-anywhere, Mick Foley-style bedlam this summer has turned into.

It’s hard to reconcile all the divergent scenarios. Either 1.) we’re careful, or 2.) we’re careless, or 3.) we care enough to tolerate some restrictions as life normalizes. Or 4.) we give the impression of caring by catering to or tolerating other people’s cautiousness (mask wearing, social distancing) without caring one bit, which isn’t outwardly dissimilar to number 3.

But these scenarios have more to do with individual choices. The assumption is that collectively orchestra groups act in risk-averse ways because nobody wants to be known as the joint that hosted a super-spreader for the Delta variant. It’s just not good business, you know?

Orchestras and operas are also money-making enterprises with musicians and staff to pay, and they’ve suffered long enough. (Not even talking about indie artists and freelancers, some of whom have been financially ruined by all this.) So it’s hard to blame anyone for wanting to pay bills.

The problems orchestras and choirs and wind bands and eclectic ensembles playing fucked up warbles of music are dealing with are basically three: 1.) how does it work to do our thing indoors? 2.) how do we take care of vulnerable customers? 3.) how can we make money when resources (time, money, attention) are directed towards safety and prevention?

It’s not just arts orgs trying to answer these questions, obviously. Offices, churches, malls, stadiums, casinos and the Fountain of Youth Archaeological Park are all staring at the same checklist, more or less. In all these “after” scenarios it’s easy to judge where priorities lie based on how cautious everyone’s being. And as Finkelstein reminded us a year ago, the more careful you are, the less money you make, the closer you get to flirting with disaster: financial, epidemiological, and otherwise. And this is shaping up to be … highly flirtatious. I need a nap.


The bird app all-stars


Links

📺 Bugs Bunny was the o.g. classical connect (h/t Alison)

🐍 Copyright takedowns are absolutely OOC

🕹️ 8-bit Carmina Burana kinda ..rules??

📽 HIT THIS LINK to hear CDA reader Carl’s new soundtrack!

📚 Wait, HIT THIS LINK to get CDA reader Danielle’s new home-ec book!

🐱‍👓 Hold up now HIT THIS LINK to get CDA reader Ori’s new chapbook!

Dark Thoughts

  • The new-ish Substack reader feels like our dearly departed Google Reader, the one online thing I will never stop memorializing. Odds of it surviving are about the same as the original — trust nobody — but I’ll enjoy it while it lasts.

  • How are we feeling about Mare of Easttown? My thought: good show, likable characters, but maybe only an average police procedural? But I’ll be at your door with sixers of Rolling Rock & Yuengling if there’s a second season.

  • Anyone else scrolling concert calendars, ready to make some rash purchases? “performed live in our concert hall” is the most beautiful combination of words since “cellar door.”

The CDA podcast is back

  
0:00
-17:49

Here’s an announcement I didn’t expect to make: the CDA podcast is BACK.

Today our long-dormant podcast returns as a one-off reboot and — here’s the catch — I had nothing to do with the production.

In the interceding years technology has advanced so quickly these things can literally make themselves.

All I had to do was plug in data from a bunch of classical podcasts and let the AI do the rest. I mean, it’s even got its own AI hosts!

Click the player to listen.

Have a nice weekend,

Will

Coin of the Realm

Let's get cryptic

Hello again.

Here at CDA we watched in disgust as people lost their shirts on GameStop, AMC and other meme stocks. What world is this when trendy financial instruments leave their holders skint? When a stocks craze causes even the most hardened investors to froth at the mouth and babble incoherently on CNBC? Folks, making easy money is foundational to our lifestyles! Tantamount to our exceptionalism! So these were dark developments.

Happily, I’m here to offer a little hope. Utilizing the vast network of CDA server farms — in the Carpathians, the Seychelles, the Bahamas, and points between — we’ve generated an investment vehicle to carry us into the future: CDACOIN. Each CDACOIN is a digital token laboriously and painstakingly mined on our server farms. Robust proof-of-work protocols ensure your investment is safer than bullion at Fort Knox.[1] And CDACOIN has a hard production cap so — unlike shares of mid-2000s shopping mall stalwarts — its value won’t tank. Just sit back, wait, and appreciate.[2]

It’s time to abandon fickle and frankly arbitrary stock valuations — real investing 1.0 stuff, so embarrassing — and embrace what Jim Cramer has called, “probably the most irresistible ICO [initial coin offering] of this decade.”[3] It’s time for CDACOIN.

Simply reply to this email for details on access and pricing. As I always say at the start of each these things, 5468616e6b7320666f722072656164696e672c.[4]

Will Roseliep

[1] These statements have not been evaluated by the SEC, ESMA, JPX-R, or any other regulatory bodies. [2] In fact, do me a favor and refrain from forwarding this email to anybody at the aforementioned entities. This would all go very wrong very quickly. [3] Cramer did not actually say this. [4] Thanks for reading.

Welcome package

Thanks to everyone who recently decided to sign for the mailer. It seems like the Isserlis project was the catalyst — for better/worse — and I’m grateful for anyone who took the ultimate risk by tagging in.

Since I’ve been slow in arranging for official merchandise and tangible CDA objects to put out in the world (cryptocurrency excepted) I’m offering this as a welcome package: a pdf of my old book that I’m sure is now extremely dated and moronic; and mp3s from the ill-fated four-episode run of the CDA podcast, which lasted longer than it deserved to.

Think of this as me paying off my debt of gratitude by throwing all this junk on your doorstep, ringing the bell, and dashing. Are we even?


GRAMMY Picks

For many years running we’ve held a special GRAMMY gambling guide. CDA readers and passersby will vote for likely winners across eight classical music categories. Who will win?? Who knows, but the prediction pool is fun at least. Here are the bets you might consider making. I’m listing only categories for which we have a clear frontrunner, along with a 1-5 rating of confidence (1 is low, 5 is high), based on responses to our survey:

Best Opera Recording

  • GERSHWIN: PORGY AND BESS. David Robertson, conductor; Angel Blue & Eric Owens; David Frost, producer (The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra; The Metropolitan Opera Chorus)

  • Confidence level: 4

Best Choral Performance

  • KASTALSKY: REQUIEM. Leonard Slatkin, conductor; Charles Bruffy, Steven Fox & Benedict Sheehan, chorus masters (Joseph Charles Beutel & Anna Dennis; Orchestra Of St. Luke's; Cathedral Choral Society, The Clarion Choir, Kansas City Chorale & The Saint Tikhon Choir)

  • Confidence level: 3

Best Chamber Music / Small Ensemble Performance

  • HEARNE, T.: PLACE. Ted Hearne, Steven Bradshaw, Sophia Byrd, Josephine Lee, Isaiah Robinson, Sol Ruiz, Ayanna Woods & Place Orchestra

  • Confidence level: 5

Best Classical Solo Vocal Album

  • AMERICAN COMPOSERS AT PLAY - WILLIAM BOLCOM, RICKY IAN GORDON, LORI LAITMAN, JOHN MUSTO. Stephen Powell (Attacca Quartet, William Bolcom, Ricky Ian Gordon, Lori Laitman, John Musto, Charles Neidich & Jason Vieaux)

  • Confidence level: 3

Thanks for playing, and — as every condescending schmuck tells you in Vegas — good luck! The GRAMMYs are March 15th.


Good friends better enemies

There is a good bit of nepotism that creeps into these mailers. When friends and colleagues have news tips, or funny links, or projects they’re working on I like to trumpet them out at a Brucknerian fffff level. (Just hit reply to send me stuff.) It’s lucky when they’re good and I don’t end up looking stupid. Here are a few I’ve liked:

  • Composer Kirsten Volness is out with a new record River Rising that is well worth your attention. I worked with Kirsten on different projects in Boston. She was so prolific it seemed like every show I played in or went to featured a new piece of hers. The irrepressible violinist Lilit Hartunian appears on three tracks on the project, which (if you don’t know her) is noteworthy in itself. I suggest you brew up some twig tea, pop on headphones, fire up Winamp visuals and just vibe to River Rising. We’ll be here when you get back.

  • Horn player Kestrel Wright has elicited both cheers and threats for his outdoor practice technique in Red Wing, Minnesota. Who wouldn’t pause to enjoy dulcet horn tones while passing by a state park? I asked him if he’s still practicing outside during the winter months. His response? “Wind chill -22… that’s a no.”

  • Good writing is hard to come by even in this golden age of newsletters. That’s why we should all be reading violist Sarah Darling’s missives about her group A Far Cry and the various other projects she’s involved with. She’s *nice* with the pen, and the bow, and you’ll be thanking me when her newsletter hits your inbox.

  • Cellist Carey Bostian is hooking up regular Sunday features from his house as a promo for his group, Red Cedar Chamber Music. It’s a clever way to showcase some Baroque dance music by Bach and Telemann. Bostian is live again tomorrow, but if you miss it you can still watch the videos later (unless Youtube takes them down or something).


I will personally Fauch for these tweets


Linksomnia

😢 I cannot recommend a three-minute video more highly

🚗 Matthew Aucoin lets some air out of Boulez’s tires

🎹 It’s time you read about the ascendant Quinn Mason

🖊️ The mighty ballpoint pen

🎤 RIP MF DOOM


Dark Thoughts

  • I’m not watching tons of live streams these days (gotta cut that screen time captain) but recordings of live shows are irresistible rn. I miss: the rustling between movements, scattered coughing, weird hall acoustics and miking, nervous claps building to a consensus reaction. Am eye the only 1, or do u crave applause 2? (Is probably the name of a Prince song.)

  • I’ve been piecing together a CDA archive because pandemic reasons. I’ve perused posts & back issues of the mailer and come away with two realizations: 1. save your source material! Link rot is real. (Goodbye, Youtube, audio, and image embeds; sayonara, outbound links). At least 50% of everything I’ve written has been rendered unintelligible. Considering 35% of it was unintelligible to begin with, we’re talking about a tiny amount of usable stuff. That brings us to lesson #2: live for the moment! Posterity be damned!

  • BUT REALLY, RIP MF DOOM. GOD DAMN.

Mini mailer

Left the PJs on a PJ

Hey all,

Greetings from CDA HQ. Like you I’m cowering at the prospect of this ghastly threat looming on the horizon: yes, of course, I’m talking about tax season. Our accountants and lawyers are already at work on their spreadsheet legerdemain, in hopes of keeping the sprawling CDA entity online and me out of debtors’ prison. So while I stress-sweat through the next few months — I mean, just how many G700 rentals are we writing off, and what reasons are we giving this time?? — all I’ve got for you is a small update.

Besides, I’m too gone off these Sinovac-Sputnik V speedballs for a full run anyway. My eyes are fogged over and my immune system is so spun nothing will feel normal for days.

Consider this an IOU for a full mailer in the immediate future.

Take care, be well, and thanks for reading.

—Will


A month-long forensic examination of a star musician’s social media feed

Nobody needed this, no one asked for it, so of course it had to be done: a nearly exhaustive scroll through the Twitter feed of star British cellist Steven Isserlis in the month of November. You can follow the link to read further. Norman Lebrecht linked to it over at Slipped Disc, which was a gratifying experience once his readers started doing their thing:

  • “[H]is deconstruction of Isserlis’s tweets was, I thought, rather offensive.”

  • “I don’t know anything [about] Roseliep except he could be making better use of his time[.]”

  • “[A] typical classical-music-world case of choosing a ‘god-figure’ and making yourself more relevant by telling the story of how you managed to be ‘in His/Her presence[.]’”

  • “Sounds like someone has too much time on his hands.”

Couldn’t have put it better myself!


The GRAMMYs are delayed, but punters never quit

The GRAMMY Awards were bumped to March due to pandemic-related concerns. While one could ask why they must take place at all this year — or any year for that matter — we’re beyond finding reasons for anything in these tender early days of 2021.

What this delay does provide is a cool two months of speculative wagering and potential financial malfeasance. Wait, are we doing the GRAMMY gamblers’ guide again? Yes. We’re doing the GRAMMY gamblers’ guide again.

Head to this link to pick your winners in eight classical (-adjacent) GRAMMY categories. I’ll send the results to you sometime before the actual ceremony. And then you can use that information to do <<gestures grandly>> whatever you like! Including placing a friendly little wager on a friendly little betting site. Or you can just do it for fun, like I do.

Good times, bad times

High notes, bass lines, nothing in between

Greetings,

The mailer is back after a bit of a layoff. It’s time to assail evil music-industry overlords, and celebrate unsung musical innovators. Most likely in that order.

It’s been a while since the last release, so please excuse any creeping nonsense below.

Happy New Year,

Will

Sent From My iPhone


Within & beyond the purview of a classical mailer

It’s hard to believe what’s happened the past few months: the ongoing COVID battle, police shootings & protests, some real talk (but mostly talk) about racial justice, arguments about face masks and health policy, schools reopening, RBG’s death, and so on.

While these things affect the health and livelihoods of musicians and others in our corner of the world, I don’t have a universally-pleasing, bullet-pointed screed filled with solutions for you to nod your head to. That is beyond my ability. Sorry.

What I’d like to say is that things feel unusually dire right now in a way that is notable even in an industry as mercurial as the music business. Orchestra seasons? By and large canceled. Gigs, teaching, lessons, festivals, fundraisers, community events: canceled, postponed, moved online. Now it’s an order of magnitude more difficult for musicians to make a living, and that sucks.

The best thing you can say is that some things will probably get better with time. Others — like representation, racial equity, and corrective actions thereof, negotiations which proceeded glacially before the pandemic hit — require a lot more work. A lot. And the outcome is not guaranteed. We will need more than just good luck.


The Evil Empire was built brick by brick, click by click

I have friends who still buy CDs when they’re chasing a music fix. I like it. That charming, anachronistic gesture not only ensures a trusty physical copy to use in perpetuity. Buying a CD is also a way to send a reasonable slice of profit back to the artist who made it.

Aside from CD and vinyl freaks, though, nearly everybody these days turns on the great hose of streaming content — via Youtube, Apple, Spotify, etc. — and siphons off workday-length quantities. It’s the Golden Corral listening model: pay a little, get a lot. Problem is, the people making that music don’t always make money off your streams. A few pennies (or fractions of pennies) here, a nickel there. It’s a bad deal, unless you’re doing Taylor Swift or Drake numbers.

In late July, Spotify CEO Daniel Ek went after people criticizing his company’s streaming model. Ek blamed artists for not being innovative enough to make money on Spotify.

There is a narrative fallacy here, combined with the fact that, obviously, some artists that used to do well in the past may not do well in this future landscape, where you can’t record music once every three to four years and think that’s going to be enough. […] It is about putting the work in, about the storytelling around the album, and about keeping a continuous dialogue with your fans. […] I feel, really, that the ones that aren’t doing well in streaming are predominantly people who want to release music the way it used to be released.

Ek uses the classic “if-you-can’t-hang-with-the-big-dogs, stay-on-the-porch” line of defense, which is similar to “if you can’t stand the heat, stay out the kitchen” but less tuneful. It’s a bilious declaration coming from an ostensible industry leader, fluffed out with the kind of useless advice you’d glean from googling shit like “how 2 make a sucesssful music carer” and never leaving the first page of results.

Lots of musicians and critics and industry types have come calling on Ek after the billionaire Swede uttered his pronouncement, so rather than dwell on that I want to move on……. to our Big Announcement!

<<AIRHORN DROP>>

Congratulations, readers and friends. Spotify is officially Enemy Number One in these streaming wars!

<<green & black confetti twinkle down from the rafters>>

<<Fleetwood Mac’s “Don’t Stop Thinking About Tomorrow” rolls>>

<<Tim Cook breathes a sigh of relief>>

Apple has been off-and-on flirting with the title since offering iTunes as a lame-o paid version of Napster. For a while it seemed like Youtube might be it when they really started jamming on the copyright claims and take-down notices for perfectly legit material. (That’s ongoing, we’re keeping tabs.) Twitch and Zoom and IG and all the others are still on the radar screen with their selective stream-torpedoing at a time when artists have nowhere else to perform. And TikTok was heir-apparent before actual sovereign governments and other entities involved themselves in its operations, thereby upping the stakes beyond the purview of “just music” and rendering our angst moot, or perhaps misplaced, for the moment.

The torch has been passed. The crown belongs to Spotify.

***

You’re not evil if you use Spotify. Hell, I do sometimes, although I enjoy it much less than when AdBlock nullified all those DYNAMICALLY INSERTED ADS WITH INCONSISTENT VOLUME that run every ten or so minutes.

For those looking for an alternative, Bandcamp has come to be regarded as a sort of less-corporate, anti-Big-Streaming platform. Some of the specs bear this out. For instance, Bandcamp:

  • takes a cut of 10-15% from sales, leaving the rest to artists

  • waives their cut entirely on certain days

  • enables merch sales on the same page you buy or listen to music, with a layout pleasantly reminiscent of MySpace

  • lets lurkers stream for free, but allows artists to paywall certain tracks or projects

That’s a good start. Other people think so too — you can read any number of thoughtful pieces about it. But it’s really only one thing, and Bandcamp and other niche-y music services (Idagio anyone? Can I get a Primephonic amen?) are unlikely to divert more than a small percentage of Spotify’s or Youtube’s or Apple’s daily music commerce. These are just facts.

***
You already know what the bottom line is. It took the music of millions to make all these platforms profitable. Meanwhile, execs grabbed the bag and did the dash. It’s not wrong if you want to use ‘em, but they already used us — bands and quartets and ensembles and DJs and orchestras and fans thereof and and and — and we let them get away with it.

Bandcamp isn’t the antidote. Physical sales only go so far. But think of them as tools of resistance against a monolithic empire, one that prefers things go in one direction, their direction, for as long as anyone’s willing to row their boat for them.


I’m sorry about this but

You can click the button below to share this mailer — tweet it, email it, tell someone to sign up, whatever you want. There’s no profit motive here besides (and this is a big one) the attention of you, your peers, colleagues, and loved ones.

Share The Classical Dark Arts Mailer

The mailer is made possible in part by a grant from the Bernard Lawrence Madoff Pyramid Fund for Performing Arts Criticism.


Choose your record review: Julius Eastman Femenine

What follows is a review of a vintage performance by Julius Eastman newly released on the Frozen Reeds label. I imagine readers have varying degrees of familiarity with Eastman. Pick and choose sections below to build your own customized review of Femenine.

***

  1. (Already know about Eastman? Skip ahead to #2.)

    Julius Eastman was an inventive, unconventional composer whose orbit included leading art-music composers and practitioners in Buffalo and NYC in the 1970s and ‘80s. Eastman played piano, sang, and danced ballet; he wrote with a looseness and fearlessness and an eye toward provocation that now — decades later — has garnered him deserved praise and renewed attention. While his CV is embossed with the usual line items befitting an artist in ascent — attended Curtis Institute, performed at Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, collaborated with the famous and influential — Eastman’s final years were an ignominious coda, marred by joblessness, homelessness and drug addiction. He died in 1990 at 49 years old.

  2. This new Femenine record is actually a release of a 1974 live performance of Femenine in Albany, featuring Eastman and members of The S.E.M. Ensemble. So, there’s nothing technically NEW about it. (If you want to quibble about that point then just vault ahead to #9.) And in fact, this isn’t even a brand-new release because it dropped in June of this year! Okay, whatever, let’s just keep it moving.

  3. What does it sound like? In the simplest terms, it’s the same thing over and over for 72 minutes. Minimalism, baby! (Or its groovier descendant, postminimalism, if you like.) But in Femenine things change subtly, and each subtle change becomes increasingly digressive as the piece unfolds, something that’s usually only possible when a composer has taken a great deal of care establishing context at the outset. There are also notes of stewed plum, cherrywood, and spice box with a long, smooth fini—wait, sorry, that’s the rioja I’m drinking right now, not Femenine.

    Anyway, the past few weeks my morning ritual has been: pour some coffee, fire up the laptop, and turn on Femenine, every day wading a little deeper. It’s the type of piece that requires patient listening, where details emerge unexpectedly the 15th or 25th time — a crafty flute gesture previously inscrutable, a moment of calm while the ensemble reloads for the next section, or unison ostinato lines that take a hard-right into barricades of spiky chords. These are what you’re after.

  4. (If you’re pressed for time, bypass these ensemble & recording notes & stagger toward #5.)

    The S.E.M. Ensemble are an outfit led by Czech composer Petr Kotik. Kotik and Eastman were two of the group’s founding members, and while Eastman has been dead for three decades, the S.E.M. Ensemble carry on. They’ve premiered works by John Cage (more on him later), Morton Feldman, Pauline Oliveros, and La Monte Young. For this particular S.E.M. performance, Eastman plays piano and leads the group through its novenas. There are “automated sleigh bells” that pulse throughout; flute, vibes & violins round out the instrumentation.

    NB: This Femenine performance is a treasure, but if you pop it on your stereo you may notice small audio abnormalities. It’s raw, sometimes shaky. I promise you will be unfazed, and in fact, quite charmed.

  5. (Already know why Julius Eastman rules? Then head to #7, my friend.)

    Eastman knew how to position his works in opposition to the prevailing attitudes and tastes of his day. (He was an excellent marketer, you might boringly note.) That his work took time to find a wider audience is no fault of his own. Here was Eastman, an artist who happened to be Black, and queer, confronting his listeners, forcing them — at least for as long as a piece lasted — to question dearly-held beliefs. He chose titles for his works (Gay Guerilla; N****r F****t; Crazy N****r) by reclaiming previously pejorative terms. He wasn’t afraid of alienating people. Here’s something Eastman said: “What I am trying to achieve is to be what I am to the fullest: Black to the fullest, a musician to the fullest, a homosexual to the fullest.”

  6. (If you won’t read a single bad word about John Cage, scroll instead to #7.)

    We mentioned John Cage. Cage is spoken of as a sort of Phil Jackson of art music: a seer whose musical theories were, for a time, perfectly realized both in composition and in practice. He wrote ambitious works that defied musical convention. (For example: As Slow as Possible, a piece which takes a tidy 639 years to perform, just changed chords for the first time in seven years!) But Cage’s imagination — much like Phil Jackson’s vaunted triangle offense — had its limits.

    In a delightful write-up at Red Bull Music Academy, writer Marke Bieschke details a performance of Cage’s Song Books staged by Eastman that completely baffled the Zen master. Cage himself was in the audience, and had less than kind words for Eastman afterwards.

    What do you have to do to piss off John Cage? Suffice it to say: you make objectification and queerness the focal points of a performance of “Solo for Voice No. 8” from Song Books when maybe, as Eastman suggested at the time, recent performances had been feeling dull or dry. This, assuredly, angered the high priest of experimental music. As Bieschke notes, the performance instructions for “No. 8” were rather cryptic. That is to say, open to interpretation, but … not just any interpretation.

  7. (Still don’t want to hear about Cage? Fine, fine. #8 is for you.)

    This recording of Femenine is from November 6, 1974. The Cage incident took place a scant seven months later, in June of 1975. As such, this record is a valuable artifact documenting a key moment before all the Sturm und Drang. That’s not to say the November concert was staid or conventional: Eastman wore either a dress or an apron (depends who you ask), and served soup to the audience.

    But you might wonder, rightly, why exactly Cage cared in the end? As a friend of Eastman’s has postulated, Cage was a gay man who didn’t like advertising the fact that he was gay. Fair enough, but Eastman was quite the opposite: proud and unapologetic (see again: above Eastman quote). Cage might have … could quite possibly have …. definitely … thought Eastman was needling him with this performance. Maybe.

  8. (Don’t need a big-picture summary? Pop down to #10 to finish things off.)

    Why does this all matter? Because Eastman was really, really good at what he did. Because he deserves the adulation we reserve for the likes of Steve Reich — tough news about him recently tho, huh — and Morton Feldman; and because our understanding of this time, his time, needs to be reconfigured. It’s not just because Eastman was queer, or Black. Lives matter because of the substance you imbue them with, and Eastman had chops, charisma, zaniness and genius in excess. He had something to say. As critic & composer Kyle Gann notes, “There was no timidity or theoretical obscurity to his music — it cut to the chase.”

  9. To recap: you can find this recording, put out by Frozen Reeds, over here on Bandcamp. You might also consider buying the 2005 compilation Unjust Malaise, which tidily collects seven works and a short intro speech by Julius Eastman at Northwestern University. I loved hearing him speak.

  10. Thanks for reading. Or if you skipped the whole thing: thanks for nothing, but do go listen.


Tweets to print, roll up & smoke, supplies permitting


Hit these links before you slink away

😤 Their loss: MPR fires Trilloquy host Garrett McQueen

👹 Not at all creepy: Alma Mahler replica doll

🌵 Rest in Peace, Ennio Morricone

💎 This Alice Coltrane short film is an absolute treasure (via Sasha)

🌡️ Mapping the spread of COVID at live shows

🙈 Making a living as a professional fake violinist (via Carl)

Dark thoughts

  • I’m making my way through back episodes of Will Robin’s new pod, Sound Expertise. The guest list is great. Fave so far is Micaela Baranello talking about operetta in Vienna, something I didn’t expect to be so excited about.

  • Not ready to give myself over to Pitchfork’s Enya reclamation project. It feels like a troll? Even though it is decidedly the opposite. Guide me.

  • Nice to be back writing a little. Childcare is a blessing.

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