Charlemagne Palestine may not be a considered a household name in all circles, but his moniker is one you would be unlikely to forget. Now at the age of 70, Palestine has made a name for himself as a musician unlike any other, his signature style being comprised of long evolving drones and sustained notes, often involving installations of stuffed animals that envelope the performance space. He is frequently associated with minimalist composition, since he was a contemporary in the 1970s of composers such as Terry Riley and Steve Reich, yet he states “I never wanted to be an anything”, a proclamation which might explain his wildly eclectic oeuvre, extending into film and art installations (His works have shown at MOMA and the 2014 Whitney Biennial.). His instruments include piano, church organ, church bells and synthesizers (Early in his career he worked with Morton Subotnick.), and with these tools in hand, Palestine composes sounds that exhibit spectral effects when either pushed beyond their bounds, left alone, or both. Palestine’s “strumming” technique can be explained as repeating sounds, ultimately invoking sonorities into existence.
Now based in Brussels, he was born in Brooklyn to Eastern European immigrant Jewish parents and draws much of his inspiration from the traditional sacred musics he encountered as a youth. Palestine got his early start singing in synagogues, where he learned the art of delivering long pieces. Then as a teenager he attended a special arts school in Manhattan and soon thereafter grew to fame as a carillioner, or bell-ringer, at a church across the street from the Museum of Modern Art. It was there that his musical style began its alteration between what Palestine refers to as “cataclysms” and at other times “sonorities”. Examples of these approaches can be heard in his many recordings, often in collaboration with artists such as Tony Conrad, Pan Sonic, and Rhys Chatham.