Charlemagne Palestine - Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone

Charlemagne Palestine

Released 2000 on Cortical Foundation
Reviewed by Lord Lucan, 22/03/2006ce

The way this CD starts is a bit like arriving late and creeping into a dimly lit hall full of witnesses to a ceremony. The listener feels like they have some catching up to do because everyone else is already there or getting there, entranced. Not too surprising when you consider that this is actually an excerpt from a greater whole. The venue is Hollywood Methodist Church, the date: Valentine’s Day 1998, the time: 1.15am and Charlemagne has been playing the church’s pipe organ for some time now.

Charlemagne Palestine, (born Charles Martin, this ‘neurotic east coast jewboy’ named himself Charlemagne Palestine in protest at the Israeli government's treatment of the Palestinians), became a loved-up hippy and started to quietly build up a body of work which whilst initially close to the spirit of his early Minimalist peers, over the years began to seem at odds with the increasing commercialism and more mainstream success of Philip Glass and Steve Reich. Charlemagne also refused to conform to the 'acceptable' image and behaviour of a ‘serious’ New Music composer. His fabulous array of teddy bears which sit on his piano whenever he performs, his sense of humour and even a willingness to talk warmly to an audience as he plays his own music, as well as drinking Cognac on stage have conspired to prevent him being spoken of in reverential, hushed tones by academics.

Their loss. Thankfully Charlemagne Palestine is currently enjoying a resurgence of interest from those whose interest in Minimalism lies at the opposite end of the spectrum to whatever insipid, arpeggiated opera Philip Glass has knocked out this week.

The means: A church organ and pieces of folded paper. Charlemagne wedges the pieces of paper between organ keys to hold them down and produce long duration sustained notes.

That’s it.
From such deceptively simple means a whole symphony of beautiful overtones and rhythmic throbs surge from the speakers like reverberating waterfalls of nectar. This music requires the listener to give themselves up to it totally. Resisting complete immersion in this whirlpool of sonority is not only futile, but also dangerously maddening. You couldn’t say you’d eaten a trifle if all you’d done was eat the hundreds and thousands and the cream. There are continually surprising layers to delve your spoon into.

Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone may be meditative, but it is still an intense experience, which can even become overwhelming. Opening up to the apparently motionless sound is revelatory. Firstly the timbre of the organ is truly beguiling. Initially sounding like the sustained final chord to any hymn you care to mention stretched out to infinity, this soon gives way to a more Eastern way of listening: Suddenly the music is moving. It isn’t static at all. Like so much of nature, its beauty lies in its deceptive simplicity. The sheer laying bare of a subtly ever-evolving chord exposing the fact that sound is vibrating air. Demystifying music this way and exposing the physics of sound doesn’t destroy its beauty any more than seeing a map of a DNA strand makes any lifeform any less amazing. In fact, to my mind the opposite is true. Submission to this music not only reveals incredibly complex and detailed sonic phenomena, but also induces aural hallucinations. Are the things we are hearing real, or perceptual, or totally imagined? How could all these sounds really be a church organ? Is this the aural equivalent of rubbing my eyes really hard and seeing dust particles as a swarm of gnats? Have I got tinnitus? And in the end, what does it matter when you’re being totally consumed by a moiré?

All these things and many others of varying levels of coherency run through the sober mind. What happens to a mind flooded by chemical enhancements when it listens to this CD is far too potent to be translated into keystrokes.

Whilst the music has been throwing pixellated comedown mandalas, its volume has been steadily increasing, the reverberation in the architecture of the church building an intensity which imperceptibly climbs and climbs like a balloon in a clear blue sky until it succumbs to the sun and suddenly deflates as Charlemagne turns the motor of the organ off, starving the organ of air and making it gasp its last chord. The time: 2.30am.

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