From Etudes to Cataclysms
Charlemagne Palestine (composer and pianist)
Sub Rosa Records
Right now, I’m in nirvana. Literally. I mean, almost 2 1/2 hours of Charlemagne Palestine on solo piano. What’s not to like?
This is an incredible album if you’re like me and love pure minimalism, which this is. It’s not going to be for everyone (someone just walked out of the office where I’m playing the album right now because it’s giving her a headache), but I think it’s one of the best albums I’ve heard so far this year. Charlemagne Palestine is one of the gods of minimalism, and regrettably remains obscure for a variety of reasons. When he emerges on independent recording or in an occasional live performance, it’s a treat. Palestine is best known for his masterpiece, Strumming Music, but he has also produced a lot of other great works for piano, voice, organ and electronics, such as Jamaica Heinekens in Brooklyn and Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone. I’m delighted to say that this double-CD set is in the same class.
From Etudes to Cataclysms is performed on a double piano, a unique instrument built by Luigi and Paola Borgato in Padua, Italy that combines an 88-key grand piano with another on the bottom in which the performer can play the lower 37 notes of this second piano with his or her feet. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of watching a carillonneur perform, the resemblance is striking. This performance was recorded in a church in Italy, and as best I can tell is largely improvised. The work explores various intervals, including tritones, that get rocked back and forth with variable speeds similar to what Palestine did in Strumming Music but the intervals and overall structure is very different from that earlier work. Like most, if not all, of Palestine’s music, this is a very ritualistic piece of music. I don’t want to diverge into his use of stuffed animals, Cognac, etc. for many of his live concert experiences, since none of that would mean anything were it not for the primal, and very beautiful, quality of Palestine’s music. His music is often drone-like, as it is on this recording, but I think of it as drones with a rhythm (or DWA; drones with attitude). Trying to categorize it is useless and of no consequence. The best way to think of Palestine’s music is to simply experience it.
I’m glad that Sub Rosa is releasing a work by Charlemagne Palestine, and the liner notes hint that there will be much more to come on this independent label, including some rereleases of what are hard-to-find albums of Palestine’s earlier work.