Charlemagne Palestine (Charles Martin, 1945) is a New York-based composer and
multimedia performance artist.
The rediscovery of Palestine is well under way, with the release of
recent recordings and several reissues.
The "Golden" series brings back to light his earliest compositions.
In-Mid-Air (Alga Marghen, 2003), the third installment in the
series, collects five works from the 1960s
that show a maturing composer, clearly educated at the school of the
electronic pioneers (with plenty of references to the Darmstadt circle)
although not particularly knowledgeable about the new techniques.
Unfortunately, they share little with his "strumming" piano masterpieces.
Instead, they hark back to an era when the like of Morton Subotnick and
Jon Appleton shocked the classical audiences with clumsy electronic
The two shorter pieces (from 1965) are not any more interesting than
thousands of studies recorded by students of Edgar Varese or (at Darmstadt)
of Karlheinz Stockhausen during those years, although the
seductive cicada-like buzzing of 7 Organism Study (1968) proves
that Palestine was an original even within the ranks of the droning composers.
Negative Sound Study (1969) is a cinematic piece that straddles the
line between static minimalism and Subotnick's dadaism. The most emotional
composition on the CD is probably the
threatening Tymbral for Pran Nath (1970), a salvo of
piercing drones that create a tragic atmosphere of suspense and grief.
Nothing on this CD compares with the surprisingly quiet
Piano Drone (1972) or the marvelous
Duo Strumming for Three Harpsichord (1978), that appeared on volume 2 of
the "golden series", or with volume 1's Alloy (1969), a piece for
"alumonium" (an instrument invented by Palestine himself), "long string drone"
(an instrument invented and played by violinist Tony Conrad), conch (played by
saxophonist Bob Feldman), percussion and voices (Deborah Glaser and Palestine)
The pieces on volume 3 are merely pages of a diary that
show the composer still searching for a path to enlightenment.
At the same time, Palestine began his video work with
Body Music I (1973), Body Music II (1974),
Four Motion Studies (1974), Snake (1974),
Internal Tantrum (1975), Running Outburst (1975),
St. Vitas Dance (1975),
You Should Never Forget the Jungle (1975),
St. Vitas Dance (1975), Island Song (1976),
Island Monologue (1976), two lengthier works, Andros (1976) and
Where It's Coming From (1977), and finally Dark Into Dark (1979).
His first major composition was
Four Manifestations on Six Elements (Sonnabend Gallery, 1974), for both
piano and electronics. It contains four rhythmic piano pieces and two
The rhythmic pieces endlessly repeat different syncopated and intricate
patterns. The third movement of
One + Two + Three Perfect Fifths, in the Rhythm 3 Against 2 is
particularly lively and vibrant with enough mathematical drift to completely
subvert its appearance by the time it completes.
The limit of this three-movement piece is that the music does not "flow":
each movement is the demonstration of a mathematical problem, but artistically
speaking one hears just different kinds of hammering.
The 16-minute Sliding Fifths goes beyond that level: the strumming is
fast enough and the notes are close enough that a "whole" emerges, a bit like
the sparkling reflections in a pond compose a whole of natural beauty,
and, as it progresses, the flow comes to evoke the tumultuous rapids of a river.
namely the 19-minute Two Fifths and the 14-minute Three Fifths.
are fluttering colorful butterflies. They do little else than replicate
themselves forever. The latter has a bit of movement, but mostly these are
stationary enough to make LaMonte Young sound like rock'n'roll.
His Strumming Music (Shandar, 1977)
was revolutionary in that it turned fast strumming into an avantgarde technique,
and minimalism into hyperkinetic (and noisy) music. Palestine improvised on
a piano at lightning speed, emphasizing otherworldly overtones. The music
settles on a pattern and simply repeats it until the player suddenly changes
something and the music adopts it as the new pattern. The strategy is that
the music is in charge, and the player only decides when to cause a "quantum
jump" to a new state. The changes can be in tempo or in tone or in counterpoint.
Godbear (Barooni, 1997) documents a live "strumming-piano" performance
A new phase began with the
colossal church-organ drones of Schlingen-Blaengen (New World, 1998), recorded in 1988 (originally composed in 1979),
Karenina (Durtro), recorded in 1997, two CDs of falsetto chanting accompanied with harmonium,
Schlongo (OOO), a church-organ improvisation recorded in 1998,
Jamaica Heinekens In Brooklyn (Barooni, 2000), a symphony of drones and found sounds,
Music for Big Ears (Staalplaat, 2002), which is music for church bells
(recorded in 2000 in Berlin).
None of them is particularly significant. They merely repeat the same ideas in
different (and not too original) formats.
Maximin (Young God, 2002) is a collaboration with
David Coulter and Jean-Marie Mathoul, who basically "remix" some of his
Music For Big Ears (Staalplaat, 2003) was performed at the
Daimler-Benz carillon in Berlin.
An Aural Symbiotic Mystery (Subrosa, 2007) was a collaboration between
Tony Conrad (on violin) and Charlemagne Palestine (on organ).
A Sweet Quasimodo Between Black Vampire Butterflies (2007) documents a live performance of the eponymous composition for two pianos "strummed" simultaneously.
The Golden Mean (Shiiin, 2007) documents a live performance from 1979
for two pianos played by just one performer.
Sharing A Sonority (Alga Marghen, 2008) collects three old works:
Short And Sweet (april 1974) for piano and sax,
Electronic and Flute (1967),
and the colossal Fundamental D Flat Group Db (april 1974) with Rhys Chatham and Tony Conrad, a piece under the influence of LaMonte Young.
The Apocalypse Will Blossom (Yesmissolga, 2007) documents a live solo-piano performance of 2000 that presents Palestine at his most "heavy metal".
The idea was continued on a collaboration with Christoph Heemann,
Saiten In Flammen (Streamline, 2009).
Illuminations documents a collaboration of
late 1971 with vocalist Simone Forti.
Charlemagne Palestine's Relationship Studies (Alga Marghen, 2011)
collects Relationship Study No. 1 and Electronic (1967).
Voxorgachitectronumputer (2011) documents a live performance of june 2007 with Joachim Montessuis (voice and computer).
Day Of The Demons (Desire Path, 2012) documents collaborations between
Charlemagne Palestine & Janek Schaefer:
L'Apres Midi Pour and Fables From A Far Away Future.
Two Electronic Sonorities (Alga Marghen, 2012),
collects previously unreleased music.
The double-disc It Ain't Necessarily So (Zarek, 2011) was a collaboration German electro-acoustic ensemble Perlonex.
The double-disc Rubhitbangklanghear (Sub Rosa, 2013), documents a performance with percussionist Z'ev recorded in june 2010.
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