Carillon and electronic drone music has earned minimalist composer Charlemagne Palestine some esteem. From Etudes to Cataclysms was his first solo work for Sub Rosa, a double album based on a unique and seldom seen instrument, the double piano. Invented by Luigi Borgato from Padua, the double piano consists of two bodies, one holding the standard eighty-eight keys to be played with the fingers, the other harboring the lower thirty-seven notes of a grand piano to be played with the feet.
At first blush, the pieces are inelegant. Structure and texture are chief concerns. Palestine begins by holding down the sustain pedal and playing almost entirely in the piano's bass register. This emits gaseous clouds that bloom in the background, before aspects of the piano's shimmering harmonics rise to the fore. The scintillating sound takes a strong bent toward more prosaically ecstatic results, the heavenly tones cultivating a certain sensuality, a voluptuousness born of intercourse with the sky, suggesting there will be reward by and by. Indeed, the repetition, mood, and manner of these pieces betray a certain mystical stripe, a striving for the defeat of time and individuation.
As the notes continue to run through Palestine's brain and fingers (and toes, too), the compositions achieve a glistening continuity and holism. This despite the fact that he works with gestures as exploratory as they are supple. Palestine moves smoothly from emphasizing the instruments ability to sustain long tones, to its prickly scramble potential. Neither is overtly privileged, but a certain order does become apparent, with the lunar pull of the notes being stressed first, as they sketch fields of emotional longing, after which segments are deconstructed and colored in darker shades. At their most extreme, the deep chiming figures act like immense plates, with one sliding under the other, producing intense surface tremors.
The album thus conveys a great deal and maintains a certain vitality without being too forcefully expressive or intense. Instead, they are loose-limbed yet restrained, driven by a relaxed directness that never leads it astray.
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