Posted on Jun 10th 2008 07:04 am
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From Etudes To Cataclysms For The Doppio Borgato
15 Tracks. 135minutes56secs
Charlemagne Palestine is an American composer born in the mid 1940s in New York. He may be as well known for his fascination for soft toys, as featured extensively on his website and in his performances, as he is for his intensely minimal music, often consisting of two notes that expand into clusters of sound as they progress.
From Etudes To Cataclysms is a 135 minute composition in fifteen parts, performed by the composer on a unique double piano played by both hands and feet. Imagine two grand pianos, one standard, one with its legs removed, placed beneath the other and operated by foot pedals. It’s a strange object to behold, but it seems fitting for Palestine’s unique music.
Super High Tones consists of high register notes, the ones at the top of the piano keyboard that sound like knocking on bones when one plays them. They’re tapped or knocked or played in an irregular, unruly fashion that’s striking (excuse the pun) in its lack of apparent uniformity. The notes vary little except to move up or down a notch or two. The overall impression is of something eerily spine-tingling in its simplicity. There’s an insect-like intentness that suggests a radically stripped down version of Gyorgi Ligeti, perhaps Ligeti arranged by Reich via the early John Cage circa A Room.
Tritone Octave 5 doesn’t vary from the schema of its predecessor except to move a little further down the scale. It pauses in the middle and waits until the last note’s decay reaches the edge of silence before beginning again. The uneven playing of the notes, their (ar)rhythm(ia), creates a shimmering affect that causes the ear to hear other dimensions behind and around the music. The hypnotic nature of this experience is bewitching and when an extra note is added or the music pauses, it’s difficult not to experience a shiver of delight.
The more one becomes immersed and surrenders to Palestine’s music, the more one finds unexpected patterns. The initial experience is not unlike the sensation of staring at the magic eye images that were very popular some years ago. However, over time, where the underlying magic eye image is revealed to be relatively banal, Palestine’s spaces telescope away like mirrors perpetually reflecting themselves into unimaginable distances. In this sense, the music most recalls James Turrell’s explorations of light which, in their experiential nature, ultimately defy description and need to be witnessed to understand their bewitching substance.
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