When you are listening to this pulsating 45-minute work, it almost feels like you are enveloped in a storm of sound. Like a storm, it starts off with a few quiet drops then transforms into a full and rich yet comforting sound right before you know it.
Palestine achieves this interesting effect without the use of any electronics. This work, which many attribute as the ultimate manifestation of his creative vision, was developed over 5 years utilizing his signature note alternation technique. He constantly depresses the sustain peddle of the Bosendorfer piano, resulting in interesting resonations and overtones.
Strumming Music is a work first released on adventurous French label Shandar in 1974 and reissued in 2017 by Aguirre Records. Strumming Music, recorded in Palestine’s own loft in Manhattan, has no written score. In an age of recorded sound he still feels no need for traditional notation. The surging energy of this particular recording stands comparison with the improvising of jazz visionaries who impressed and inspired him while living in New York, as a young man. But, as Palestine himself has made clear, primarily he brings to music-making the sensibility of an artist rather than a musician.
Although the technique of the piece has roots in Palestine’s daily practice, when a teenager, of playing the carillon at a church, hammering sonorous chimes from a rack of tuned bells, it also draws on his later work as a body artist, staging vigorously muscular, physically demanding and often reckless performances. In addition, Strumming Music can be heard as a sculptural tour de force, while its textures connect with the colour moods, plastic rhythms and tactile space of Mark Rothko’s Abstract Expressionist canvases.
Since then he has returned enthusiastically to musical performance and his formerly meagre discography has steadily grown. Still Strumming Music remains the essential index of Palestine’s singular creative vision. Fundamentally this fascinating piece is a collaboration between an artist and an instrument. Palestine had first encountered the Bösendorfer Imperial back in 1969. He had already been playing church organs for several years, relishing their power and presence. Now he had found a piano that satisfied his need for sonic depth and weight. “The Bösendorfer at its best is a very noisy, thick molasses piano,” he has remarked. Charlemagne Palestine embraced its clinging sonorousness, its clangorous resonance and out of that embrace came the voluptuous sonic fabric of Strumming Music.