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To the Fullest: Organicism and Becoming in Julius Eastman's "Evil N****r" (1979)

Weston, Jeffrey (2021) To the Fullest: Organicism and Becoming in Julius Eastman's "Evil N****r" (1979). Doctoral Dissertation, University of Pittsburgh. (Unpublished)

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Julius Eastman (1940-1990) shone brightly as a composer and performer in the American avant-garde of the late 1970s- ‘80s. He was highly visible as an incendiary queer black musician in the European-American tradition of classical music. However, at the end of his life and certainly after his death, his legacy became obscured through a myriad of circumstances. The musical language contained within Julius Eastman’s middle-period work from 1976-1981 is intentionally vague and non-prescriptive in ways that parallel his lived experience as an actor of mediated cultural visibility. The visual difficulty of deciphering Eastman’s written scores compounds with the sonic difference in the works as performed to further ambiguity. However, the vivid language used within the composer’s titles has historically created a rupture in the Western concert hall and continues to do so today. This tension of sonic, ocular, and cultural visibility resonates particularly strongly in Evil N****r (1979), a work that is part of Eastman’s “N****r series.” I demonstrate that Eastman’s self-defined concept of “organic” music lends itself to analysis through the lens of musical becoming—a process of dialectical movement between thesis and antithesis to construct, or synthesize, identity.

Eastman describes his organic music as a formal process of amassing meaning through similarity. However, when analyzing his work, it becomes apparent that both similarity and contrast abound. The play between similarity and contrast in Eastman’s work defined what came before and what followed, a method of sonic growth, reference, and continuity—a process of continuous becoming. In this analysis, I approach Evil and its composer through the lens of becoming. I explore how we can understand Eastman and his work through processes of becoming and where we can find these instances in his life and music. I utilize Evil as a case study to demonstrate how Eastman’s search for identity influenced his musicianship, philosophy, and the conception of the work; and illustrate how the juxtaposition, reference, and distillation of pitch set, contour, interval, and temporality inform the growth of motivic material, and thus, the becoming of the work itself.


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Item Type: University of Pittsburgh ETD
Status: Unpublished
CreatorsEmailPitt UsernameORCID
Weston, Jeffreyjmw212@pitt.edujmw212
ETD Committee:
TitleMemberEmail AddressPitt UsernameORCID
Committee CoChairHeller, Michaelmichael.heller@pitt.edumichael.heller
Committee CoChairRosenblum, Mathewrosenblu@pitt.edurosenblu
Committee MemberCassaro, Jamescassaro@pitt.educassaro
Committee MemberWilliams, Amyamywill@pitt.eduamywill
Committee MemberWomack,
Date: 20 January 2021
Date Type: Publication
Defense Date: 8 April 2020
Approval Date: 20 January 2021
Submission Date: 30 November 2020
Access Restriction: No restriction; Release the ETD for access worldwide immediately.
Number of Pages: 226
Institution: University of Pittsburgh
Schools and Programs: Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences > Music
Degree: PhD - Doctor of Philosophy
Thesis Type: Doctoral Dissertation
Refereed: Yes
Uncontrolled Keywords: Julius Eastman, Organicism, Music Theory, Music Composition
Date Deposited: 20 Jan 2021 19:17
Last Modified: 20 Jan 2021 19:17

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