Charlemagne Palestine – Arpeggiated Bösendorfer + Falsetto Voice (1974 / 2017)
Note: This is a modified and expanded version of a review, originally published by SoundOhm.
Within the history of 20th century music, and across the legacies of musical Minimalism, few voices command more respect and adoration than that of Charlemagne Palestine. Discovered by Tony Conrad working in the shadows, once unveiled, the pianist, organ player, and composer, rapidly became a seminal voice in the 1960’s and 70’s New York sonic avant-garde – contributing many the ideas which came to define that movement. While Palestine has returned to us in recent years – entering his most prolific period, for decades he was lost from view. In 1974, he released two albums – Four Manifestations On Six Elements, and Strumming Music – both seminal works within the cannon of Minimalism, before pushing onward across other creative paths for the next 25 years. Since the late 90’s, Palestine has sculpting a towering body of astounding work – making up for lost time, but his most coveted, sought after, and beloved works remain those found within his slim output from the middle of the 70’s. Long thought to be all there was, Alga Marghen has proved the presumption wrong – releasing a duo of long lost recordings, made that same year as his two most iconic works.
In 1974, Ileana Sonnabend – one of the most noted gallerists in the history of 20th century art, commissioned Palestine to create a limited edition double LP to celebrate the opening of her new Soho space – the final result of which was Four Manifestations On Six Elements. What has remained largely unknown, was that several recording attempts were made – the first in Pennsylvania, on Swarthmore College’s Bösendorfer Imperial Piano. Created late at night, under the guidance of Mayo Thompson and Kurt Munkacsi, within the college’s cavernous theater, these stunning recordings, which make up Arpeggiated Bösendorfer + Falsetto Voice, are of stunning historical importance – shimmering works, which, while standing on their own, offer remarkable insights into the formation of the album which has become adored and so well known.
The fact that the recordings, which make up Arpeggiated Bösendorfer + Falsetto Voice, were pushed into the shadow for over 40 years, seems confounding. While different than Four Manifestations On Six Elements, they are that album’s equal and mirror – so astounding, that they rank among the most important recordings from the history of Minimalism ever made. They encounter Palestine consumed by extraordinary creative powers – charting territories which no other composer had yet to trace. Stemming from his technique of strumming the piano – repeating a succession of notes to generate overtone harmonics, Swarthmore’s Bösendorfer becomes a immersive, rippling cloud of ambience and rhythm – later enforced and heightened by entry of a falsetto voice. Enough to bring the most hardened listener to tears, beyond the stunning quality of Palestine’s piano playing, it is the second element which makes these recording so singular and unique. While singing has has an occasional presence in the composer’s more recent works, it is entirely absent from his early releases. This is a rare glimpse into an aspect of his work from this period that few have been allowed to recognize.
Musically overwhelming and drenched in history, Arpeggiated Bösendorfer + Falsetto Voice is unquestionably one of the most important releases of this year. Brought to light within the incredible body of efforts that makes Alga Marghen stand out, the LP is available in a tiny edition of 405 copies, and thus shouldn’t be slept on. One of the greatest albums of musical Minimalism, that the world never heard, it’s available via SoundOhm, and should hit shops soon. SoundOhm also have samples up on their site.
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