PRINT April 2000


Charlemagne Palestine

HUGE POOLS OF SOUNDS coming from one undifferentiated tone: This is the dizzying, precision work of Charlemagne Palestine and a Dutch organ, stretched out for seventy-one minutes. The single note sounded gives rise to more notes, a sustained single chord, that in turn establish their own spatial existence, even some aural architectures. Perpetual performance. By consumer-culture standards the thing is unlistenable, yet at the same time it is ready to teach you some kind of deep listening. Only, it won’t teach anything. It just does what it does, and those who listen become involved in the acoustic and emotional consequences of the effort. The artist intended a fluid and ever-changing interaction between himself, the instrument, space. Now us. Ready for some exhaustive practices or for the memory of their impact? Just happy to find a small piece for the collection, between other reminiscences of the art and art music of the ’70s, of the “Theatre of Eternal Music,” La Monte Young, Terry Riley, early Philip Glass? Of sometime collaborators Simone Forti or Joan Jonas?

These interactions are the stuff of legend. But then the legends were told no longer, and forgotten they became. There is nothing we can do to make things just, I guess, and the “golden age” fluidity in the arts, when artistic existence was synonymous with the experimental and artists moved and shifted in and out of formats, is long gone. Charlemagne Palestine, the seeker of the “golden sound,” was one such fluid figure, active as a composer, a performance artist, a painter throughout the ’70s and into the ’80s—mostly in New York before leaving for Europe. But there is some archaeological activity here: In the case of Schlingen-Blängen, there was the effort of Ingram Marshall, a friend of Palestine’s and a fellow composer, who remixed the recording, which was conceived in 1978 and originally recorded in Holland a decade later. He is also responsible for the informative liner notes contextualizing the project. The recent release on the New World Records label constitutes a different forum (one that is no less interesting than other Palestine releases on the Dutch Barooni label)—i.e., digital recording, with no audience present and thus no memories either, nor any enigmatic considerations, nor the stuffed animals that Palestine considers spiritual beings and likes to spread across his keyboard. What we get is just material, like an abstract questionnaire, trying to enter, to define one’s relation to physical and imaginary space. The medium that poses the questions is sound.

The investigation goes on. Who’s in charge? And who’s charging us with what kind of sound? The performer, the instrument, our degree of attention or sensibility? Questioning and contributing to sound environments of life and art is not out-of-date, but a shifting, organically growing, and challenging matter and a topic in which musicians as well as artists have become interested again. Both universal and secret, this sound works as a matrix for the magical once more. Schlingen-Blängen is a meditative yet uncontrollable exercise and a memo alike. By getting in touch with it, the listener can transform him- or herself into an enormous presence.

Jutta Koether is an artist and writer based in New York.