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Charlemagne Palestine

August 26, 2009 by garry

Charlemagne Palestine has been pushing the Milky Way-wide padded envelope of minimal music and maximal art since the middle of the 20th century. Starting out in New York City in the late 1950s as a student of accordion and piano, Charlemagne scored some early experience as a drummer for beat poets and Tiny Tim. In the ’60s, he studied piano, painting and sculpture, improvised some electronic drones, played the carillon at a church and composed music for the Tony Conrad film Coming Attractions.

In 1970, sunny Southern California beckoned Charlemagne, where he enjoyed a brief stint at Cal Arts. While there, he studied gamelan and voice, and discovered the instrument that would make the biggest impact on his musical life, the Bosendorfer imperial piano. Back in New York in the early ’70s, Charlemagne began to surround himself with his trademark stuffed animals as he literally bloodied his hands during a series of extended, ritualistic solo piano performances. He recorded his first album, Four Manifestations on Six Elements, in this style, as well as his most well-known and classic work, Strumming Music. Around 1980, the colorful creatures took over and forced Charlemagne to concentrate most of his creative energy on the visual art world, which included soft sculpture, multi-media installations and videos.

Living mostly in Europe during the ’80s and early ’90s, Charlemagne lectured at various universities and concentrated on his visual art almost exclusively until the mid ’90s, when a younger generation of musicians coaxed him back into recording and performing music. Since then, an explosion of Charlemagne Palestine albums have been released for public consumption, including new works--like the field recording / drone classic Jamaica Heinekens in Brooklyn—plus re-issues and first-time issues of unreleased vintage recordings.

Also of more recent vintage is one of my all-time favorite books about one of my all-time favorite artists, Sacred Bordello, which covers all of the above and more. In an explosion of color and stark black and white, it chronicles the whole life and insanely multi-hued career of the man. Via vivid, multi-layered graphic design, a dizzying array of music gigs, gallery installations and street performances are presented for your ultimate viewing pleasure. A biography and interviews with the subject, plus a list of exhibitions, concerts, performances, recordings and a bibliography wrap up a compelling story of one of the most colorful performers of all time, and a true artist in every sense of the word.

Timeframe: Pre and post-Altamont.

Public Impact: Although Charlemagne Palestine never sought nor enjoyed the wider commercial success of his peers like Phillip Glass and Steve Reich, his intensely personal and uncompromising explorations in music and art will always strike a majestic chord within any kindred spirit who cares enough to dive headfirst into this challenging miasma.

More: Forced Exposure, ESTWeb, Perfect Sound Forever, YouTube


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