GENRE | PIANO DRONE
VERDICT | NOT FOR NOVICES
LABEL | NEW AMSTERDAM RECORDS
RELEASE | 3.26.13
Mary Ann-Hobbs once said, “You won’t find another musician as agile and reckless as DJ /rupture.” Co-founder of the Dutty Artz label Jace Clayton‘s newest album, the first released under his own name, is as compelling as it is ballsy.
The Julius Eastman Memory Depot is a passionate and fearless attempt to reinvent and reintroduce the often cryptic music of Julius Eastman to a modern audience.
Eastman was a gay black composer known for being a pioneer of minimalism and embodying the downtown New York City scene of the 1980s. A genius freak who trampled upon the concert hall establishment of classical music, he lived a life marked by addiction to crack, alcohol, and his own aberration. Like many of the asphalt visionaries of that time, he was both sly and cynical in his attempts at revolution through creation. He died ruined and alone with only a handful of live recordings of his groundbreaking work.
Clayton has chosen to tackle two of Eastman’s three works for four pianos, “Evil Nigger” and “Gay Guerrilla.” Eastman wrote music following what he referred to as an “organic principle,” where each new section of a piece contained all the same components as the previous sections and these parts were removed and replaced at a logical rate.
Throughout Memory Depot, Clayton adheres to Eastman’s pathos by running adept pianists David Friend and Emily Manzo’s pianos through a laptop, where he uses custom built digital tools to morph electronic and acoustic sounds together.
The result is a mad, meandering collection of complex tracks that are dangerously close to teetering over the edge.
The opening note of “Evil Nigger” is a doozy. Clayton creates a mean staccato that he strips down until there is nearly nothing left.
A hypnotic trill enters, followed by a lower counterpart, and this perpetual wax and wane begins. The listener can feel the force and pressure of the pianist’s fingers as Clayton plays with crescendo and diminuendo by introducing subtle electronic effects beneath the keys’ foreground.
The final minute of Part I is light, airy, dense, and nearly beautiful.
Then the dark low notes transition into the sporadic musings of Clayton for Part II. Nearly all of the melody is distorted here, rising in pitch after each effect is abruptly cut off and replaced by another more eerie one. Much more of the unorthodox electronic effects are evident in Part III and IV. Clayton utilizes a tool that uses the overall volume of the pianos to simultaneously adjust a drone being generated by their pitches. The result is an electronic layer built entirely on the piano’s sound.
Part I of “Gay Guerrilla” sounds like the pianists are laying it on like a couple of kids throwing a tantrum on the keys of a piano. Pounding polyrhythms swirl about, both hard to process and difficult to avoid. Part II sounds like running frantically through pitch black woods.
As the piano parts fall away, it’s as if the listener has stopped to catch their breath and listen to the unfamiliar sounds of the night.
Flanked by wispy strings, the keys return gradually to usher yet another reworking of the piece. At this point, it starts to become difficult to discern which components are the same as the parts before it. Clayton’s electronic influence is only noticeable in short spurts, like the end of Part III and beginning of Part IV.
He literally warps away the acoustic sounds like words on a chalkboard, only to smear them back on with the letters rearranged.
In Part V, you can visualize the pianists feet on the pedals, weighed down by cinder blocks.
So dark and dissonant that halfway through, I think my heart rate has reached a dangerously low rate.
The album ends with “Callback from the American Society of Eastman Supporters,” an original piece that begins with a strange mock robocall explaining that supporters of Eastman are chosen and some are rejected completely. Then Sufi vocalist Arooj Aftab sings languidly,”Regardless of age, regardless of race, regardless of color, regardless of creed and disability, sexual orientation, political affiliation.” It is like one of those audio exhibits played in a loop and held in a small dark space at a modern art museum.
This album is an intelligent and at times too dense renewal of music by a footnote composer who should not be so easily forgotten.
Clayton’s reimagining reminds me of my first time listening to some Aphex Twin and Prefuse 73 productions. I feel as though I have to listen to this music like I am viewing a piece of avant-garde art.
28 KINGSTON ST.