Ljubljana, October 2015

Artist talk: Charlemagne Palestine

Legendary composer Charlemagne Palestine in conversation with Luka Zagoričnik

In September 2015, Charlemagne Palestine played in St.Jacob’s church in Ljubljana and gave an Artist talk in MoTA Point afterwards. This New York born multimedia artist (“People of my generation called it multimedia … it’s such a toopy-poopy word. Gesamtkunst … Gesamtkunstwerk … it’s so much more exciting. But I didn’t know the word back then. To use it in New York … it would sound pretentious. Maybe it still does.”) began by playing sacred Jewish music and went to study accordion and piano. In the sixties, he was playing backup drums for Beat poets Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso, filmmaker Kenneth Anger and singer Tiny Tim. His work spans from music to video and sculpture. In the seventies he collaborated with dancer Simone Forti, with whom he created sound and movement piece Illuminations. He taught at CAL Arts, during which time he created arpeggio pieces, – inspired by the Californian easy-going life and the sun – which he soon came to dislike, because they just didn’t work when he returned to New York. The city was a great influence on his music. “Maybe the New York traffic jams developed my piano technique.” Although he is often associated with the minimalist composers, he loathes the word: “There are three words I hate. In my vocabulary, there are three hate words: minimalism, composing and improvisation. I don’t feel they apply to me in any way, they are overused and I don’t even know what they mean and if they would disappear, I wouldn’t care.”


Palestine has a unique relationship with words, or as he puts it: “I’m afraid if you say a certain thing … in the end, then the Gods will think it’s over and you’ll die.” That’s why he names his shows schone-man show or schmetrospective, rather than using the “final” expressions. This is somehow reflected in the titles of his works. “That’s another typical way I like to work in … I come up with a title, and the title, it’s like a planet. Not a title, it’s a planet. Like Schlingen Blängen that I came up with for my organ piece in the seventies and people asked me: ‘Well, what does it mean?’ My reason for inventing such kind of title is that I was sort of joking with all the titles of Boulez and Stockhausen and Berio and Xenakis. They always had, what I found to be, incomprehensible titles … they had this sort of scientific, philosophical, etymological reasons why it had to be called that, so I said: ‘Well, let me do it my kind of way, but in a sort of Brooklyn way.’” Before moving to Europe, he very rarely performed, but rather exhibited his art pieces in galleries, such as Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, Moderna Museet in Stockholm and at documenta8. Now he settled in Brussels and performs regularly. He says he likes to play in spaces with interesting acoustics and hates those that try to make their acoustics neutral: “It’s like playing in a condom.”

For more Palestine wisdom, watch the video below!