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Charlemagne Palestine - A Sweet Quasimodo Between Black Vampire Butterflies

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Artist: Charlemagne Palestine

Album: A Sweet Quasimodo Between Black Vampire Butterflies

Label: Cold Blue

Review date: Feb. 27, 2007

Though he was a contemporary of Glass, Reich, Riley, and Young, Charlemagne Palestine has rarely been included in the holy pantheon of New York minimalists. Perhaps it’s his aversion to the use of a “minimalist” categorization to describe his work, or that his discography, until recent years, remained rather scant. Or even his personality, which has always been in contrast to the more somber and serious airs of many of his peers. For whatever reason, Palestine remains, to many with only a cursory knowledge of the history of experimental music, not much more than an also-ran in the discussion of the minimalist canon. But, in recent years, Palestine, who returned to performance in the 1990s after a hiatus spent concentrating on visual art, has found the music world more receptive, and his discography and performance schedule have grown as a result.

A Sweet Quasimodo…, one of Palestine’s most recent releases, documents a 2006 performance by the artist recorded in Berkeley, California. A solo duet of sorts, played simultaneously on a pair of pianos, the piece begins with a slow alternation between two notes, with plenty of sustain; the inertia building as the playing becomes more rapid. Especially in its simplest moments, A Sweet Quasimodo… focuses as much on the sonorities that arise as the notes decay and intermingle as it does the sounds of initial hammer-on-wire contact. As Palestine’s playing grows denser, the clustered notes and their increasingly opaque aural trails blend into a rich sound field that, at its best moments, starts to peel away from the physical act of a man playing pianos, music that doesn’t deny its source, but grows into something more than the relatively simple actions that cause it. The piece moves at largely steady tempos, with occasional changes that act as the music’s joints, providing ample segue for movement up and down the keyboard. Palestine’s vaunted “strumming” technique steers the piece from a gentle glimmer towards something far more formidable, and the music moves from something more conceptually stirring into sound that achieves a certain physicality of effect, even on disc.

Palestine’s frequently cited a spiritual influence in his music, with ritual aspects of both the sound and performance parts of his work. Palestine’s habits are well-documented, and while its unknown whether the usual phalanx of stuffed animals accompanied him on this trip, A Sweet Quasimodo… is listed as being played on piano and brandy snifter, the spirits a customary accompaniment to any Palestine performance.

Palestine’s piano technique has remained largely the same over the course of the last few decades, but due to a dearth of recordings, the appearance of A Sweet Quasimodo… isn’t exactly redundant. Palestine’s remained a fringe figure in minimalism’s history for so long that additions to his discography, more frequent in the last decade or so, are always welcome.

By Adam Strohm

Other Reviews of Charlemagne Palestine

In Mid-Air

From Etudes to Cataclysms

Strumming Music for Piano, Harpsichord and Strings Ensemble

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View all articles by Adam Strohm

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