Charlemagne Palestine & Janek Schaefer – Day of the Demons
Posted In: Charlemagne Palestine, Charlemagne Palestine & Janek Schaefer - Day of the Demons, Day of the Demons, Desire Path Recordings, Fred Nolan, Janek Schaefer
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Charlemagne Palestine’s biography would be better served by a full-length book than a quick album preview: born Charles Martin in 1945, he performed with his synagogue choir as boy tenor. “We would sing for six hours on the Sabbath with only a short break. They used to give us a tot of whiskey beforehand.” Trained to perform the carillon, he was a bell ringer at St Thomas Church in New York in the 1960s. He says, “I lived near the bells, played them right next to my body. The sound became physical, visceral, each crack of the clapper was like a small earthquake.”
In time he would play percussion alongside beat generation pioneer Allen Ginsberg, and built up a massive catalog. Closely associated with the minimalist movement, Palestine is said to prefer the term “maximalist,” for his efforts in securing the full gravity out of any instrument or arrangement.
He practically abandoned music during the age of disco. In an interview with Alan Licht, he said, “Around 1977 I became very negative, I began to do things unconsciously that I didn’t understand…. I was doing whatever I could to destroy whatever world I had created ten years before, without knowing, really, why.” Eventually Palestine “was practically destitute – I even went to live in a former leper colony in Hawaii because I felt like a leper.” By any measure his current acclaim constitutes a revival, although you could make the case that this is his second, at least as far as key reissues are concerned. Pascal Savy’s lively review of Palestine’s recent Cafe OTO performance with Oren Ambachi set the stage very well: the rituals, the cognac, the unconventional way the concert began, and the family of stuffed animals. Palestine says his soft toy entourage must “travel in the (airplane) cabin with me. I would never put them in the hold.”
His revival continues: May 1 will bring the release of some new material, Palestine’s collaboration with architecture student and sound artist Janek Schaefer, the four-year simmer Day of the Demons, courtesy of Desire Path Recordings.
The format is 12” 33-rpm vinyl. There is scarcely enough room for one track on each side, roughly 40 minutes in all. Side A features “Raga de l’aprés midi pour Aude,” a brewing storm of shruti box and harmonica, every long measure answered with a faint, two-note carillion response. As hoped, the composers draw luxurious arrangements from a few instruments, a few notes, so the room is thick with an almost cinematic tension when the incantations start at four minutes in. Palestine’s endurance is not just copy: most other tracks would be wrapping up by now.
The composers chose the name “Raga” for accuracy, not just charm. A distinctly Central Asian ethic drives both the instrumentation and the vocals. The discernible chants are unsettling, are stark contrasts to the recycled breathing and exaggerated slowness of the shruti box. Measures turn to minutes as the quivering and abstract vocals lapse from anguished to optimistic and back again. Nor should we turn to Side B for any clear answers. “Fables from a far away future” begins with sparse and dissonant melodica, distracted chime improvisation, and field recordings of every stripe: an interview, a crowd, the sound of children playing, answering machine recordings of a girl reciting her nightly prayers. The mad carnival disharmony more agrees with the almost Caribbean voodoo implied by the album title. Swells of old synthesizer (the one-sheet offers only the tantalizing reference “sine waves”) close off the first act, after which the composers strip the canvas down to its dissonant core. A clip of one of Palestine’s long concerts demonstrates the performer engaging carillon keys with shims and then stepping away from the instrument, mugging for the camera as the thing drones away in discordant contentment. This way we can think of the fiery, nine-minute midsection here as a primer for some of those live marathon performances.
The track returns to its bedlam chimes now, its nonlinear melodica and field recordings: admonitions, slight commotion, the general haze of conversation. So while it is not a terrifying end, it not exactly network TV-decisive, either. Palestine once said, “It’s been a 50-year search to find a place in the world for an avant-garde, soft toy worshipping Quasimodo.” We should feel fortunate for his wanderings.
- Fred Nolan for Fluid Radio