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Charlemagne Palestine - From Etudes to Cataclysms

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Artist: Charlemagne Palestine

Album: From Etudes to Cataclysms

Label: Sub Rosa

Review date: Aug. 20, 2008

Wonderfully maverick and unpredictable in his explorations, Charlemagne Palestine has nonetheless created a body of recorded work that draws quiet - and sometimes slightly disturbing - power from the composer's roots as a cantor and carilloneur. His musical imagination, complemented by a knowledge and experience of two ancient musical traditions, digs deeply into the mathematics, physics and metaphysics of resonance, tone and overtone, or to put it more specifically, the mysteries and revelations of vibration and duration within sacred spaces.

From Etudes to Cataclysms, recorded in 2005 in an Italian church, features Palestine on a unique two-story piano, created and developed by Luigi and Paola Borgato of Padua, Italy. He plays one with his hands, and another, below, with pedals. This allows for full exploitation of the skills in rhythmic, mathematical and melodic independence and simultaneity required in the bell-ringer's complex art. Stretching over two discs, the work begins with percussive patterns in the treble, ultimately moving all the way to deep, churning bass rumbles. In between lies the heart of the piece: a shifting dance of kaleidoscopic vistas. Above all, this music seems to create itself from the complex interplay of tones, overtones and timbres that blossom between the notes; a sort of sonic infinity unfurling of its own volition between carefully measured points. (It helps, of course, that the recorded sound is utterly clear and spacious, capturing both the piano and the church acoustics perfectly.)

The rhythms and brokenly-staggered lines that Palestine plays here are alluring in and of themselves, too. Indeed, it's fascinating to engage with his tempos and patterns as they speed up and slow down in ways that are not so much mathematical as they are organic. As the music unfolds and blooms, one might sense the composer's presence in a great physicality of effort and, paradoxically, economy of gesture. It's that focus and utter present-ness in a state of etude, perhaps, that allows the cataclysm to arrive in all its beauty.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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A Sweet Quasimodo Between Black Vampire Butterflies

Strumming Music for Piano, Harpsichord and Strings Ensemble

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