Read the argument about Steve Reich and cultural appropriation.
Be able to discuss the following questions. We will discuss these questions on Wednesday 11/18 and Friday 11/20 in class. Then, write a c. 2-page response these questions (due Monday 11/23). You can receive up to 3% extra credit on your final grade for successfully completing this assignment.
How Steve Reich Made Music out of White Complacency
What do you make of the use of west-African musical elements (e.g., overlapping rhythmic drumming patterns, repetition, marimbas, etc.) in Steve Reich’s music? Is it a problem? Does the fact that Reich studied drumming in Ghana have any bearing on this question?
What do make of Reich’s use of the “raw material” in the piece “Come Out”: i.e., the voice of a Black victim of police violence (one member of the “Harlem Six”)? Does the fact that it was originally used to raise money for the legal defense of the “Harlem Six” have any bearing on this question?
Is there a tension between the neutral, dispassionate, aestheticized qualities of “Come Out” and the visceral subject matter?
Here’s what Reich says about the piece: "“Come Out” is political and it has survived for 50 years now. It’s historical as part of the Civil Rights movement. Of course, it only matters to the Civil Rights movement because it’s successful musically. If it didn’t work musically, it wouldn’t work for the subject matter.”
Does the structure of the piece communicate anything about how we might understand the “subject matter?"
Kwame Anthony Appiah, Cultural Borrowing Is Great; The Problem Is Disrespect
Is cultural borrowing always a form of oppression? What is the significance of relative (economic, political, military) power — i.e., who has the upper hand — in determinations of cultural appropriation?
Why does Appiah say that ownership is the wrong model for thinking about cultural practices? Are cultural practices proprietary? What role does authenticity play in this discussion, as in the example of yoga?
George Lewis, Foreword to Gay Guerrilla: Julius Eastman and His Music
Eastman’s provocative titles are discomforting by design. As one of his biographers puts it, they are a way of insisting on the sort of conversations he wanted to have. What do you make of these titles? Do they enrich the experience of his music? Do they detract from it? What do you make of the reason given (a charge of “racism”) for the censorship of the titles in the 1980 concert at Northwestern University?
Is Eastman’s use of the N-word an attempt to wrest control over the word — to render it powerless (i.e., repurposing of hate-speech)? Or does it represent a blunt and stark appraisal of its damaging aspects? If the latter, is there a way this might be a good thing, or does the use of the word just perpetuate its harm?
Julius Eastman, Evil Nigger
The piece is based around a refrain structure, but one quite different from traditional examples (e.g., song form, ritornello, the return to the head in jazz standards, etc.). In Eastman’s piece, the time between repetitions of the refrain gets longer and longer, until the refrain disappears completely.
What does the return to a refrain suggest about ideas of order, stability, and control (and conversely exploration and experimentation) in traditional refrain structures. In contrast, what does the structure of Eastman's piece suggest about these ideas? How might this be related to the progression from simple diatonic harmony to dissonant/polytonal harmony to atonality over the course of the piece?
In Eastman's introduction he says, "what I mean by n*****s is that thing which is fundamental." One possible meaning of this is that racism sits at the heart of America’s origin, that America as we know it was built on slavery as an institution. How might this complicate the question of order, stability and control as a conceit in music and in particular in this piece?