Author Topic: Contemporary queer composers  (Read 2464 times)

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Offline Mandryka

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Contemporary queer composers
« on: October 30, 2019, 10:04:06 AM »
<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/pdeckwHGoog" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/pdeckwHGoog</a>

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/UfxQDoLC7H8" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/UfxQDoLC7H8</a>


In the 1970s Julius Eastman used his music to promote gay sensibility in a militant way, famously offending John Cage in a performance of the Song Books, and also in his Gay Guerilla above. His address at Northwestern university seems to me to be very inspiring -- I mean when he's talking about niggers and guerillas.

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/E2XtFZMpwm0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/E2XtFZMpwm0</a>

Are there any other composers who are exploring queerness through their music?
« Last Edit: October 30, 2019, 10:24:43 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline J

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2019, 10:12:14 AM »
Forgive the ignorance of an old guy, but are "queer" and "gay" exact equivalents?
« Last Edit: October 30, 2019, 10:14:29 AM by J »

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2019, 10:21:50 AM »
Yes
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #3 on: October 31, 2019, 01:17:17 AM »
Maybe this thread will prompt me to finally get round to seriously exploring The History of Photography in Sound. Here is Seventeen Homosexual Poets.

<a href="https://www.youtube.com/v/SNFuyCJLAC4" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer" class="bbc_link bbc_flash_disabled new_win">https://www.youtube.com/v/SNFuyCJLAC4</a>

and there's an interesting discussion of the Gershwin Arrangements here

https://britishmusiccollection.org.uk/article/50-things-michael-finnissys-gershwin-arrangements


(It appears that there are now three recordings of the complete Gershwin Arrangements, Nicholas Hodges, Dirk Henton and Ian Pace.)


« Last Edit: October 31, 2019, 01:27:31 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline mc ukrneal

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #4 on: October 31, 2019, 05:49:19 AM »
Forgive the ignorance of an old guy, but are "queer" and "gay" exact equivalents?
No. Queer is quite offensive. So is using the n-word.
Be kind to your fellow posters!!

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #5 on: October 31, 2019, 07:47:04 AM »
My interest in this started after a discussion about Eastman with a composer. He said that he thought that Eastman’s music was prescient of a significant trend in contemporary music, a quasi romantic trend where the composer’s work is not only informed by the beliefs and values and passions which constitute his identity, but also militates for them.

When I asked for contemporary composers who use their music to militate for queerness, I didn’t get a clear answer. I was pleased to be reminded this morning that Finnissy talks in militant terms though.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2019, 08:10:23 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #6 on: October 31, 2019, 07:49:01 AM »
No. Queer is quite offensive. So is using the n-word.

No, on the contrary, but let’s not let this turn this into a semantic thread, I’ll answer you straight away in Cato’s Grammar Grumble.
« Last Edit: October 31, 2019, 07:58:42 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline Brewski

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #7 on: October 31, 2019, 05:00:02 PM »
Not sure this quite qualifies, but since you mentioned Finnissy, it's a longtime fave. Cover is by director Derek Jarman, of his AIDS-blinded corneas.

And the piece is fantastic.



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Online JBS

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #8 on: October 31, 2019, 05:46:28 PM »
My interest in this started after a discussion about Eastman with a composer. He said that he thought that Eastman’s music was prescient of a significant trend in contemporary music, a quasi romantic trend where the composer’s work is not only informed by the beliefs and values and passions which constitute his identity, but also militates for them.

When I asked for contemporary composers who use their music to militate for queerness, I didn’t get a clear answer. I was pleased to be reminded this morning that Finnissy talks in militant terms though.

I will ask a fundamental question: how does one militate for queerness (or, more generally, for x-ness, x being any group that is on the fringe, oppressed, suppressed, whatever term you might want to apply).  For some groups there might be a musical heritage to draw on, but suppose I happened to turn on a radiocast of music by such a composer, how would I catch on to the fact that the composer is "militating for x-ness" ? (I am premising that there is no text involved to clarify the composer's intent.)

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Offline amw

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #9 on: October 31, 2019, 06:55:48 PM »
No. Queer is quite offensive.
It’s contextual—it’s still used primarily as an insult in the american south where I grew up, but when I moved north I found people were more likely to use it as a neutral or positive term, especially in academic disciplines (thus, “queer theory” etc) as well as a self identifier in preference to gay or homosexual. Somewhat political term even in NYC though with anti-assimilationist slogans like “not gay rights but queer liberation”. So it really depends on where you are I guess. I’ve never been comfortable using the word myself but it’s clearly not always offensive.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #10 on: October 31, 2019, 11:19:35 PM »
A comment from Claude Vivier, not directly about music, he uses the term discourse, what he says made me think of Schubert, Susan McClary and Foucault.

Quote
Male discourse, the way it is presented to us in western civilisation, is a discourse that obliges us to be strong, great, dominating, which obliges music to be goal-oriented, which obliges opera to have conflicts, to put the universal on stage. It is this that, on the level of sensibility is called into question. When I talk about a gay discourse, [it’s] a way of putting people on an equal footing without discrimination

Anyway it made me dig out his piece called Beating here, I think it’s very good indeed

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Offline Mandryka

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #11 on: October 31, 2019, 11:23:39 PM »
I will ask a fundamental question: how does one militate for queerness (or, more generally, for x-ness, x being any group that is on the fringe, oppressed, suppressed, whatever term you might want to apply).  For some groups there might be a musical heritage to draw on, but suppose I happened to turn on a radiocast of music by such a composer, how would I catch on to the fact that the composer is "militating for x-ness" ? (I am premising that there is no text involved to clarify the composer's intent.)

The titles. If you listen to the Eastman’s speech at Northwestern University in the opening post of this thread, you’ll see that the titles are important for him, and maybe that’s right. Similarly for Finnissy I suppose.

You know, Eastman’s Nigger Faggot or Gay Guerrilla  would be different if they were called something bland.
« Last Edit: November 01, 2019, 12:36:14 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline vandermolen

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #12 on: November 01, 2019, 12:27:10 AM »
Would the composer John Corigliano come into this category with his First Symphony commemorating the victims of AIDS?
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline amw

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #13 on: November 01, 2019, 02:49:52 AM »
The titles. If you listen to the Eastman’s speech at Northwestern University in the opening post of this thread, you’ll see that the titles are important for him, and maybe that’s right.
It's a question that's been asked about Eastman before, with variable answers.

I'm agnostic on the question of how gay/black/etc his music is but I do generally find it more compelling than almost any other minimalist composer's and partly because it's not the result of some kind of abstracted process. Like Cage as compared to Feldman, it feels more genuine. Cage and Eastman use various mechanistic compositional processes to be sure, but it feels like their styles result from a genuine sense of inner necessity, whereas Feldman seems like he just wanted to write Sibelius symphonies but that would mean he didn't get invited to Robert Rauschenberg's house parties anymore, so he had to come up with a compositional formula, & it does "sound" formulaic in the later works in a way that even something like Music of Changes doesn't.

I don't think any of this has anything to do with Cage or Eastman's gayness, except that it made them somewhat outsiders in the musical and artistic establishment, and therefore they didn't have as many people to try to impress.

Offline Mandryka

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #14 on: November 01, 2019, 03:03:36 AM »
The irony there is that Cage and Eastman fell out, because Eastman started to do provocatively camp things in his contribution to a performance of the Song Books.

Quote from: https://daily.redbullmusicacademy.com/2018/07/julius-eastman-john-cage-songbooks

Over the next 14 minutes, Eastman delivered a bizarre lecture that focused on the erotic, but played on and exploded notions about race, colonialism and sexuality. As he invited the couple onstage with him to strip — the man ended up naked, the woman only partially so due to embarrassment — he declared them "the best specimens in the world." Of Miss Suzyanna he said, "She comes from a special tribe which is found only in the Great Woods of Haiti." Of Mr. Charles — blonde, almost certainly one of Eastman's boyfriends — he said, "I might congratulate you in the audience who are from Buffalo, because Mr. Charles I found in Buffalo, a very rare and wonderful specimen."

Like an alien anthropologist, Eastman clinically categorized the seductive elements and functions of their bodies, from the way their "oval," "slanted" eyes could drink in potential lovers from the feet up, to the sensitive way the hand could stroke the breast. He joked that he chose members of two races because he wanted "to show the best of both worlds." He referenced an imaginary work about foot fetishism and castigated Americans for smacking their lips.

All the while, his voice growing more theatrical as his fellow ensemble members began singing and playing eery electronics, Eastman was camping things up, to the delight of the audience. He wrapped his leg around his male "specimen" and puckered his mouth with his fingers. "Julius only managed to get the man undressed," recalled S.E.M. founder and director Petr Kotik, "and being an outspoken homosexual, he was making all sorts of 'achs!' and `ahs' as he was pulling his pants down." A review by Jeff Simons in the Buffalo Evening News said, "By the time Eastman's little performance was finished, Mr. Charles was completely undressed, and Eastman's leering, libidinous, lecture-performance had everyone convulsed with the burlesque broadness of his homoerotic satire."

In a final flip-off to convention. Eastman ended his piece by saying, "I am hoping, of course, that most of you will go home and experiment, yes, because I know that you will like it as much as I have. For those of you who would like to have a private lesson, you write Box 202, La Jolla, California, care of Dr. Paga. Thank you so much for listening to this marvelous lecture."


. . .


Amid the crowd's glee, John Cage watched the performance of his piece stonily, even shouting something toward the end. Afterwards, Cage stalked onto the stage and confronted Eastman and Kotik, demanding angrily, "What was this? What was the meaning of this?" The next day at his lecture, Cage was still furious. Normally soft-spoken and gentle, Cage pounded his fists and said, "When you see that Julius Eastman from one performance to the next, he does the same thing, harps on the same thing, in other words does his thing and that his thing unfortunately has become this one thing of sexuality." He said of confronting Eastman that Eastman told him he didn't think he would perform the piece in the future: "I said, 'I'd be very grateful to you if you don't.'"

Why all the fuss, and why has the Song Books incident become so notorious as a changing of the avant-garde? In one sense, the moment was typical of most generational showdowns: A young, iconoclastic upstart directly challenges an eminence grise to confront new ideas and cultural currents or retire to the folds of history. It was even a bit of an ambush: Eastman had performed the Song Books before, also with Cage present, without incident. The homoerotic lecturer swerve came out of nowhere.

What Eastman had displayed onstage wasn't so very new. Hair, with its exuberant nudity, had been playing on Broadway since 1968, gay rights rebellion Stonewall took place in 1969, and many of the artistic and musical happenings of the '50s and '60s contained more shocking material. (What also wasn't new, alas, was men making women feel uncomfortable onstage as part of a performance.) So what had really bothered Cage?

In his lecture, Cage acknowledged that Eastman's performance pointed out a limit of Cage's own compositional technique. In his instruction to "perform a disciplined action," he said, he had failed to make his true intentions known. -You can't do whatever you want, but anything goes," Cage said, banging a nearby piano, typically enigmatic. "By discipline, I understand something that will act as a yoke, or yoga, to the ego, keeping the ego from getting bigger, so that its boundaries will dissolve and you will be free of its likes and dislikes. I don't approve because the ego of Julius Eastman is closed in on the subject of homosexuality. And we know this because he has no other idea to express. In a Zen situation where his mind might open up and flow with something beyond his imagination, he doesn't know the first step to take."

« Last Edit: November 01, 2019, 03:09:04 AM by Mandryka »
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Offline J

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #15 on: November 03, 2019, 12:40:16 PM »
Would the composer John Corigliano come into this category with his First Symphony commemorating the victims of AIDS?

Is a work about or in reflection on a (partially) gay issue and its consequences categorically different from one that somehow expresses queerness itself in some one or more of its manifestations?

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #16 on: November 03, 2019, 12:49:16 PM »
Is a work about or in reflection on a (partially) gay issue and its consequences categorically different from one that somehow expresses queerness itself in some one or more of its manifestations?
OK, thanks Greg.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline J

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #17 on: November 03, 2019, 01:50:21 PM »
OK, thanks Greg.

Not that I'm sure what I said is even meaningful.  Were you convinced?

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #18 on: November 03, 2019, 02:16:16 PM »
Not that I'm sure what I said is even meaningful.  Were you convinced?

Yes, it made very good sense to me but I wouldn't have understood this without your explanation.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline amw

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Re: Contemporary queer composers
« Reply #19 on: November 05, 2019, 12:54:30 AM »
The irony there is that Cage and Eastman fell out, because Eastman started to do provocatively camp things in his contribution to a performance of the Song Books.
Yes, that kind of underlines the difference between "gay" and "queer".

There's a similar kind of ambivalence in Henze's orchestral piece Heliogabalus Imperator, which I'm listening to at the moment—Heliogabalus being a notorious Roman emperor who not only openly took male lovers (not particularly unusual, admittedly, for Roman emperors) but also dressed up in women's clothing, and who nowadays is seen as being either homosexual or transgender, although these categories didn't exist in Roman times. (Although it's equally possible that neither his supposed gender nonconformity, nor his infamous cruelty, ever actually happened—the historical record was mostly written by his political enemies, who definitely had to answer some questions about why they publicly executed an 18-year-old boy-emperor and his mother.) Henze of course, also gay, and also equally uncomfortable with his contemporaries who expressed it more openly (e.g. Sylvano Bussotti).