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Jace Clayton Revives A Forgotten Voice From New York's Vanguard

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Jace Clayton Revives A Forgotten Voice From New York's Vanguard

Jace Clayton Revives A Forgotten Voice From New York's Vanguard

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  • Transcript

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

New York in the '60s and '70s was a playground for experimental music, from Philip Glass to Lou Reed to Patti Smith. What about Julius Eastman?

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JACE CLAYTON: When I first heard his music, I was actually floored.

SIMON: That's musician Jace Clayton.

CLAYTON: It was beautiful, it was muscular and hypnotic. Wow, this was being made back then. You know, what other things have I missed?

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SIMON: Julius Eastman was black and gay and gave his songs provocative titles.

CLAYTON: Titles like "Evil (beep)", "Gay Guerilla," or another title that I love so much is, "If You're So Smart, Then Why Aren't You Rich?" At a time when other musicians are, like, music for 18 musicians, he's bringing in ideas of class and of race and of sex and it's all there in what is traditionally the sort of like white cube blank space of, you know, classical music.

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SIMON: Jace Clayton makes music under the name DJ/Rupture. He'd been looking for something to work on and when he heard Eastman's music...

CLAYTON: The music itself I loved and then there's the whole fact of it, it's been painfully underperformed. And on top of that, his scores were often open for artistic interpretation.

SIMON: So he did. Jace Clayton took two Eastman pieces and recorded them as written for two pianos.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CLAYTON: What I did was then take those recordings, and then start passing those piano sounds through all sorts of different patches and algorithms and, like, effects boxes and whatnot.

SIMON: The result, "The Julius Eastman Memory Depot." Twenty minutes later the second piece starts. The intensity builds and fades.

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CLAYTON: Like, moments of incredible physical and physically demanding performing, you know, like hitting the piano hard, these songs which last, you know, 25 minutes or so but then have these movements where they sort of - things stretch out and it becomes suddenly very, very delicate and sensitive.

SIMON: But the music outlived its composer. Jace Clayton says he heard that Julius Eastman disappeared into drugs and alcohol and wound up living in Tompkins Square Park.

CLAYTON: And then in 1990, he died at the age of 49, so really young. And his close friends were completely out of touch with him at that point, so by the end of his life it's just a bit of a mystery.

SIMON: Jace Clayton's new album is, "The Julius Eastman Memory Depot." This is NPR News.

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