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Schlingen Blängen

Charlemagne Palestine
Schlingen Blängen
(New World Records)

Just about three years ago, I was some 800 feet below the surface of the earth in Carlsbad Caverns on a guided tour of the lower caves. At one point in the tour, everyone sat down for a little break in one of the outer chambers and the guides and everyone else along turned off all their lights. After awhile of that total darkness and total silence, my eyes and ears started to seemingly make up their own sights and sounds. Although there wasn't a speck of light, and although it was very nearly completely quiet (only the soft sounds of breathing), I swear I could hear and see things. With eyes open to nothing but black, little light tracers flashed around, much like the colors seen through your eyelids during waking moments, and the fever pitch of silence produced what I swore were high-pitched tones (behavior I was told is normal under such sensory deprivation).

Just in case you wonder where I'm going with the above description, let me say that listening to Charlemagne Palestine is something like the above described situation. One of the original minimal composers (even before Glass and Reich and others made the term fashionable and acceptible), Palestine was carving out all kinds of areas in total minimal and drone work. Although he went through a hugely experimental and productive phase during the late 60s to mid 70s, he subsequently dropped off the face of the scene in the early 80s in favor of working on his rapidly growing interest in visual and performance art.

During his time, he became known for his multi-hour concerts in which he would put into motion only a single set of chords, holding keys in place with cardboard wedges, letting the tonal sounds reverberate and find their own way. Only ocassionally would he slightly adjust stops for timbre, and it's this pure basking of sound that is captured on Schlingen Blängen.

Normally, I find myself highly annoyed when a CD is comprised of only one long track (especially a 70-plus minute one), but in the case of Charlemagne Palestine, it's really the only way to hear his work. There's really no use skipping ahead or even around on the disc, because the changes are so subtle that you'd most likely never establish any real anchor points in the perfomance anyway. Going back to my first paragraph of explanation about the caves, this is music to simply fall into and let surround you. It's drone music before that term was probably even coined as well, and although it doesn't change very much, there is still a lot going in within it. The unique qualities of the organ not only present a shimmering quality that is quite beautiful, but after hearing the same chord and sounds for awhile, the ears naturally begin to dissect the tones into other pieces. Was that a horn there? Is that an electronic keyboard? No, it's simply your ears trying to make sense of the pure (but oscillating) sound. If you can actually make it through the entire thing and the disc finishes spinning, the strange part is that it actually feels like a sonic piece of your world has gone missing.

Musical compositions like the work by Palestine are ones that could be talked about conceptually for ages. It's trance music without the crowds or all the cheesy-ness that the term implies, and it's music to envelope yourself in. In an interview once, he actually stated that he wanted his work to be like an auditory representation of a painting, and that's actually pretty fitting (although depending on who was listening, though, their interpretation of it could vary as widely as Rothko vs Pollock). Needless to say, you really have to be in the right mood to hear it, and you have to know what you're getting into before hearing it as well. Melody and rhythm do not play any role, rather texture born out of sound are what it's all about. How much will I listen to it? Probably not a lot, but there are times when I know it will be the perfect tone bath.

Rating: 6.75