The Wire

The world's greatest print and online music magazine. Independent since 1982


Unreleased Julius Eastman music to be released in autumn

Julius Eastman’s Femenine recorded by the longrunning SEM Ensemble in 1974

A previously unreleased work by US composer Julius Eastman gets its first release this autumn. Femenine, a 1974 piece for chamber ensemble, was recorded the same year by SEM Ensemble, and this new disc marks its premier release. To date, it’s the only known recording of the composition.

Eastman, who died in 1990, was a composer, vocalist, choreographer and dancer whose pieces addressed his status as a black gay composer in a white-dominated musical elite in composition titles such as Evil Nigger, Gay Guerrilla and If You’re So Smart, Why Aren’t You Rich. His work incorporated additive processes of minimalism, but as part of his own style of composing termed organic music. But Eastman’s work also spanned operatic performance – including a role as King George in a performance of Peter Maxwell Davies’s Eight Songs For A Mad King – and conducting. He formed a close relationship with cellist and disco producer Arthur Russell, conducting many of his works; and Steve Cellum, the co-producer of Russell’s World Of Echo, recorded this 1974 perfomance.

The piece is played by SEM Ensemble with Eastman on piano. The US based SEM Ensemble were formed in 1970 by Czech composer Petr Kotik and continue to operate today as interpreters of avant garde and experimental music – they recently performed as part of Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival’s 50th anniversary of AMM events in in 2015.

Eastman’s later years saw him spiralling into poverty and homelessness. His work did not appear on record at all until the 2005 three disc New World set Unjust Malaise. He was the subject of the recent book Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman And His Music, edited by Mary Jane Leach and Renée Levine Packer, the former of whom provides the sleevenotes accompanying this new release. The anthology was reviewed by Philip Clark in Print Run, The Wire 388.

Femenine is released by the Finnish label Frozen Reeds, whose autumn release schedule also includes a brand new double CD by Thomas Brinkmann, A Certain Degree Of Stasis. For more information on both head here.