Charlemagne Palestine at Holy Trinity
ARTS REVIEW Australia introduces his work as follows:
"New York underground’s notorious piano-destroying, soft-toy loving, composer, musician, shaman and artist, Charlemagne Palestine will deliver a powerful performance for organ and voice at the Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Williamstown on Saturday 23 June 2018...
His works for piano, organ, carillon and voice explore the transcendent potentials of music, working across questions of resonance and duration, to create defining moments of trance music for the 20th and 21st centuries.
Born to Russian-Jewish parents in Brooklyn, New York in 1945, Palestine grew up immersed in the sounds of klezmer bands and Russian folk songs. His experience singing in Synagogue as a boy treble helped shape his concept of music as an endurance event..."
WHAT I EXPERIENCED - some thoughts:
The church is bathed in an intense, almost searing magenta light. It is hard to see anything but magenta. My photos are magenta paintings. Upon arriving (nearly one hour early) we immediately sense that the performance has already started. There is a hovering, fluttering, continuous sound in the air, emanating from the organ which has clearly been de-tuned creating beating frequencies. The expected stuffed animals are there; as a textural pile of rags and fabric draped over the altar, obliterating any clean lines -- and well worn cloth animals are tumbled on the floor in front of the altar. On the altar table are a number of wine glasses, plus a bottle of Black Label whisky and a bottle of sparkling mineral water. Charlemagne is moving about the stage slowly, adjusting the organ, playing with the proportion of liquids in wine glasses, sipping from glasses of -presumably- Scotch and then water, working with a camera crew who are following him around. He is a figure of blurry outlines and shambly posture; wearing what appears to be three hats stacked upon his head, white ponytail spilling out behind, and a wonderful cult-design tropical shirt with the words Mambo Theology across the back. Taking all this in, I realise that he is indeed performing, or perhaps going into the state in which he will perform. The indications of public performance are liminal; movements are pedestrian, ordinary, yet just out of the ordinary enough to nudge us into sensing that this is a focused, sculpted event. This sort of "focused-ordinary-deliberate" movement goes on for some time, while the drones are tuned, and the wine glasses arranged. He is also working with an iPhone, presumably tuning up an app that will produce sound. The audience is already attentive. It is a cold though not sub-zero Melbourne winter and everyone is rugged up in overcoats, scarves, wool hats. (Melbourne audiences for experimental music are great this way; extremely attentive and open-minded, in any conditions). After a very long period of tuning and adjusting, and gradually pulling our focus inward, inward, and outward into the space, stilling our ears and minds.... the performer speaks: "welcome! now I think I'll start." He walks down the church aisle, and suddenly emits a loud, shamanic, slightly Hebraic call, or spontaneous chant, in a high, piercing voice, that seems incredibly well-tuned to the space, creating a ringing vibration against the ongoing organ sound. The walls ring. He carves out sonic and physical space with his voice. After this startling awaken-calling, there are a series of what I would call "prolonged episodes of sound building" in which he moves to various sites in the church, patiently and relentlessly building up sound textures and excavating resonances - the most dramatic for me being a thumping sound coming from the rear side-wall of the building, apparently stamping on the pedals of a portative organ. Following that, (with organ and iPhone drones always continuing in a background layer) moving to a grand piano at front, off to the side of the altar, ringing the entire space with long-duration focused percussive hammering on open simple intervals - boring into the sound of the piano, drilling it out, grabbing onto frequencies in the air, activating formless sound that seems to come from nowhere. This was followed (always moving from one station to another in a meandering, slowed-down, pedestrian manner interspersed with occasional wineglass tones) by a full-on assault on the organ's potential for raw, dense frequencies. The organ sound was built up to a ferocious shimmering wall of sound. But always, it is not just the instrument, but the instrument-in-space. Charlemagne Palestine is a shaman of sound in space. I was left thinking about how using his combination of disarmingly weird costume and stage settings, plus the most subtle, understated gestures, he manages to ensnare and beguile, and open up the audience, not to focus on himself, but indeed on the physicality of sound and the beauty of sound's livingness in the spatial setting of this moment, this architecture. Somehow this also creates community - an intangible that I would feel developing among us, the listeners and co-participants. I realised later that some of the bodily movements he performs that may seem just slightly odd, are him listening, rocking back and forth so intently that we are brought in too, subconsciously and playfully. He finished the concert with a warm friendly chat, hugs and handshakes, and many laughs with his audience, who seemed enraptured.
Further Thoughts: Because of the church setting, I couldn't help thinking about how this kind of performance might overlap the art of presiding in worship— how our collective attention can be gently, gently brought in, not by force of personality, but by involvement with the thing-being-contemplated. Also, how utterly important is the tuning of the space.
Photos below by Catherine Schieve, Saturday June 23 / 2018 - click to view slideshow