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Charlemagne Palestine (b. 1947)


Four Motion Studies (1974)
Island Song (1976)
Mother of Us All (2009)


Charlemange Palestine was born in New York, and studied at New York University, Columbia University, Mannes College of Music, and the California Institute of the Arts.

A contemporary of Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Phill Niblock, and Steve Reich, Palestine wrote intense, ritualistic music in the 1970s, intended by the composer to rub against Western audiences’ expectations of what is beautiful and meaningful in music. A composer-performer originally trained to be a cantor, he always performed his own works as soloist. His earliest works were compositions for carillon and electronic drones, and he is known for his intense piano performances. He also performs as a vocalist. In Karenina he sings in the countertenor register and in other works he sings long tones with gradually shifting vowels and overtones while moving through the performance space or performing repeated actions such as throwing himself onto his hands.

Palestine's Strumming Music (1974) remains his best known work. It features over 45 minutes of Palestine forcefully playing two notes in rapid alternation that slowly expand into clusters. He performed this on a nine-foot Bösendorfer grand piano with the sustain pedal depressed for the entire length of the work. As the music swells (and the piano gradually detunes), the overtones build and the listener can hear a variety of timbres rarely produced by the piano. A recording of Strumming Music was also Palestine's second vinyl album in the 1970s, reissued on CD in 1991. Since then, several additional recordings from the 1970s (featuring Palestine on piano, organ, harmonium, and spoken word), including new recordings of more recent works such as Schlingen-Blängen, have become available.

Palestine's performance style is ritualistic: he generally surrounds himself (and his piano) with stuffed animals, smokes large numbers of kretek (Indonesian clove cigarettes), and drinks cognac.