Sunday, September 6, 2009

Charlemagne Palestine in Kansas City

Charlemagne Palestine testing an organ from Scott Unrein on Vimeo; from

This is one of the few times I wish I was back in Kansas City; Charlemagne Palestine played a monstrous organ piece, described by Sequenza21's Galen H. Brown here, at the Grace and Holy Trinity Church in Kansas City, MO as a part of the 2nd International Conference on Minimalist Music, just blocks from our first apartment there in 7th st. Listening to a guy hold down all the keys to an organ (no word yet as to whether he surrounded the instrument with stuffed animals as is his habit) for hours at a time in a church likely sounds like the waiting room for Purgatory for most sensible people, but I had my third ear opened by a Charlemagne Palestine record, Strumming Music, played at deafening volume, in the mid nineties, so I can only image that witnessing the real thing might have completed my ascendancy to The Next Level.

Strumming Music is a powerfully reduced piece of music; two notes alternated in rapid succession on a grand piano with the sustain pedal depressed for 45 minutes. The notes form overtones and the overtones from more overtones until they fill the space with glistening beauty. The one time I heard it was on album while visiting Minóy, a key player in the cassette culture scene in the late 80's/mid 90's. He insisted on playing it at the maximum volume his stereo could manage, and while the overtones started to work in his cramped living room, they were too much to bear, too monotonous, so I stepped outside to smoke a cigarette while Minóy continued his trance. It was even deafening outside; the piece had transformed his house into a resonator.

I opened the door and it was like being suddenly spellbound by the glory of Zeus, irradiated by this thing. You could hear everything in it: groans, twinkles, howls, hums, laughter, whispers, everything. I stood in the door for a full minute or two before entering the room, like when you wade into a pond that is too cold. When the piece finished, leaving just 10 or so seconds of overtones hanging in the air, both on record and in the room, it was like being dropped from a height back into your body. It sounds a bit hyperbolic now that I'm saying it, but music has never sounded the same way since. Sometimes I think I keep listening hoping to get back to that moment.

So yeah, I would've loved to see this. Perhaps next international minimalist conference, you might want to consider Baton Rouge. I bet I could arrange a night at an actual juke joint to be available for the Forever Bad Blues Band if La Monte Young is into the idea.

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