Charlemagne Palestine – Continuous Sound Forms
Charlemagne Palestine’s Continuous Sound Forms might be a somewhat surprising lead-off post for a psychedelic music blog, but I don’t consider it too much of a stretch. After all, this music–immersive, hypnotic, and droning–certainly has more than its fair share of psych signifiers.
This recording is a compilation of two different performances. The first consists of three excerpts from a dual harpsichord session, which certainly has its moments. However, both the choice of instrumentation and the stark rigidity of the composition itself tends to leave me cold, and it’s definitely not what moved me to begin writing this.
The motivation for that belongs to the second piece here, a 1972 performance entitled “Piano Drone.” A more generous exercise in classical minimalism does not come to mind. What we have here is brilliantly luminescent clusters of sound, a clear-eyed and generous space that inhabits the intersection between Lubomyr Melnyk’s torrential cascade of notes and LaMonte Young’s stoic mysticism.
I already used the word, but what I really want to point out and emphasize here is the generosity of this recording. I mean, we can be frank here: to give an entirely cynical, negative, and closed-minded reading, “Piano Drone” is 22 minutes of highly repetitive meandering on a piano. An argument can be made that very little actually happens here. And yet, being fair to Charlemagne Palestine, it’s fairly easy to get lost going down the deliberate, hypnotic, and inviting path that this piece takes. After a delicate intro, trills and currents of notes begin to slowly but definitely coalesce, forming, at their thickest, a rich haze of interlocked melody. At its deepest, “Piano Drone” becomes an absolute pleasure to listen to closely. I never get tired of teasing apart threads of tone and observing the place of each in this dense weft.
Even at its most complex, the piece is still harmonious, with any dissonance only alluded to and never engaged. “Piano Drone” concludes as delicately as it begins, with individual runs of melody wisping away into the perfumed air.
I know, I know, overwrought critical language. But engaging this kind of studied beauty practically demands it. Plus, the “wisping”/”perfumed” air thing is at least somewhat literal. Though this performance is not ambient, it closely hews to that genre as defined by Brian Eno: this is music that can completely diffuse into the background, filling out the space of whatever room it’s played in. And yet, when stopped abruptly, the ensuing silence is both deafening and somewhat unwelcoming, a testament to the pervasive goodwill of “Piano Drone.” It’s a learned piece, but it’s beyond that: it’s beautiful, inviting music.