Music Reviews

Charlemagne Palestine, David Coulter, and Jean Marie Mathoul

Maximin

Young God

You’d think with such a determined course of action some people would just run out of ideas. Granted, plenty have. Look at popular pariah La Monte Young or upper crust panderers like Philip Glass and you’ll see just what a played-out fever dream repetition can be. Obviously, these are two easy targets doing very different music, Glass’s additive/subtractive cyclical compositions have more or less devolved to the point where they just sound like easy-bake film music along the lines of a composer like John Williams. I’d like to take the credit for attributing John Williams with the moniker of “minimalist,” but that distinct pleasure goes to composer Charlemagne Palestine, who could probably teach Glass and Young a thing or two about their music.

Palestine’s work has more shared territory with Young than it does with Glass. Long drones, microtonal quivers, epic duration all factor in, but Palestine places importance on innovation and physicality. Palestine’s work shows a composer who hurdles himself into his music and requires that the listener do the same. Apparently, he’s even bloodied his fists on numerous occasions from the sheer violence he inflicts upon his piano at his concerts. More importantly, however, is the constantly shifting approach to his work.

On an album like the fantastic Jamaica Heinekens in Brooklyn, Palestine mixes a synthesized drone with field recordings he made with a tape recorder while walking through the Jamaica Heinekens festival in New York. It is one of the most colorful, engaging recordings made in the minimalist idiom, feeling almost a thousand miles away from the ominous refrigerator hum of the preceding minds of his genre. Or take all of the amazing work with overdubbed pianos and electronics on Six Manifestations of Four Elements , or the work with strings, sax, and metal chimes on Alloy, or Godbear, where Palestine programmed a Bosendorfer to play his with his distinct approach. These are albums with such a keen attention to overtones and density that they are without a doubt some of the most powerful music I have ever heard.

I meet a lot of cynical, hipster music fans and I tend to ask them when the last time a piece of music actually made them cry, the last time they were literally moved, beyond just using grandiose adjectives to describe the work. Often, the people I’ve talked to can’t even remember. Godbear was one of those albums for me, an album where I was honestly moved to tears. Jamaica Heinekens was also one of those albums for me.

With Maximin, Palestine takes yet another approach to his work. He allows several pieces of his to be “revisited” by David Coulter and Jean Marie Mathoul. Granted, Steve Reich=EDs work underwent remix treatment not to long ago, when a bunch of beat-making electronic music paragons decided to show the kids how cool Reich’s work was. I didn’t like it so much, to be frank, and hell, to be even more frank, I don’t particularly love anything Reich’s done in the past twenty years, but that=EDs beside the point and perhaps unnecessary.

Maximin draws from three different Palestine albums over its brief 47 minute duration, Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone, Karenina, and the aforementioned Jamaica Heinekens. Coulter and Mathoul employ a variety of musicians and instruments to experiment with Palestine’s work, which then in turn gets the go-ahead from Palestine himself.

It’s unclear what the motivation here is. The album is certainly more accessible than Palestine=EDs other work, taking works that go beyond an hour in length and re-examining them in shorter fragments, now even denser in sound. It seems justified as Palestine’s works have always microscopically analyzed the smallest nuances of music.

The results are usually fairly strong, and at the very least always admirable for effort. The sole exception is “Schlongo!!!daLUVdrone revisited #2,” which, for some reason opts to add a sterile beat that overpowers the already sufficiently exciting music. The single look at Karenina on the album takes one of Palestine’s weaker pieces (a long organ drone mixed with chanting) and makes it suitably denser, certainly doing the work justice, despite a particularly short duration.

The real highlights in Maximin, however, are Coulter and Mathoul’s takes on Jamaica Heinekens, where Palestine’s incredibly layered work is analyzed and augmented to an absolutely euphoric degree thanks to electric guitars, hurdy-gurdies, and additional voices. Coulter and Mathoul really seem to get to the center of the piece, that sense of joy and awe that Palestine’s work always seems to touch on.

The brevity of the disc and the pieces on it might not be as substantial or effective at evoking those disorienting and drowning feelings that one might get from Palestine’s longer works, but Maximin will, without a doubt whet the appetite of Palestine’s future fans.

Young God Records: http://www.younggodrecords.com


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