Press-wise, I keep running into this luminary of contemporary music: Julius Eastman. Forgotten and now suddenly remembered . Composer, Vocalist, Serialist (think Morton Feldman, Phillip Glass and Steve Reich), Experimental, Underground, Black, Gay. With so many unpopular qualifiers could it possibly have gotten predictably worse for Julius Eastman? Here then, another genial Artist, dying in poverty and relative obscurity. Until most recently. Amen.
Enter the Passion of Joan of Arc. As the season of passios continues to turn around the rites of religion disguised secularly, below are a few clips from Eastman’s Joan’s Passion, 1981 to accompany Carl Theodor Dreyer’s 1928 gothic film.
Although Epiphany is the Christian myth celebrating kingship, the story of Joan, a historical figure, has been perennially one involving thorny crowns. But the proceedings are certainly no less imagist. Her story and the (in)humanity surrounding her “trials” of 1431 have been debated and portrayed lengthily. And her crowning sainthood was only most recent (1920).
What does this have to do with Nature, Landscapes and Gardens –on surface, absolutely nothing– unless you look more closely at the bonfire of wood on which women were burnt alive in the public clearing or common ground. Passio or passionem, suffering, enduring: The trials and travails were exhibitions in the landscape.
The historical classic textbook by John Dixon Hunt, Figure in the Landscape (1989), reads for garden syntax and landscape design through poetry and painting, elegantly. But might legitimately require a critical relecture. What figures do subalterns, slaves, serfs, women, migrant agricultural field hands, proletarians, children create, what new syntax as they inhabit (which) sites in/on (what) land, and to what effects.
But that’s another type of project. And I am meandering wrecklessly.
Here, to get back to Eastman, let us suggest simply that there are musics and sounds (and in this case images, Dreyer’s own) acutely able to invite us to travel, through time and space. Acutely able to invoke and evoke such that our bodies are no longer where we have placed them, but suddenly exposed to the elements.
In the first video clip we hear Eastman’s powerful voice intoning repetitively, chanting, singing.
In this second clip, Eastman’s compostion for 10 cellos
For more on Joan of Arc Scores set to Dreyer’s film by a generation of artists inspired by the serial and looping experiments of their predecessors, an electronic collaboration between Portishead and Goldfrapp proposed a magnificent rendition of their own composition in 2011 at the Lincoln Centre/Alice Tully Hall. And if I remember correctly, Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore was also a surprise guest playing guitar and bow.