Monday, September 15, 2008

Minimalist Weekend and the world of Palestine

This past weekend, between Sam and Noah and concerts and parties, neither Joy nor I got much sleep. "Concerts and parties?" you are asking yourself, remembering that we have two small (and one of them very small) children, "what concerts and parties?" Kyle Gann, one of my favorite writers on American music, explains on his blog.

That's right, we had a dinner with Kyle, a concert Saturday evening, and multiple planning sessions for the Second International Conference on Music and Minimalism that we are hosting next year. Looking through the listing of people featured on next year's conference, I'm sure one name jumped out at you - Charlemagne Palestine. His was the one name that David McIntire sent me when KC was selected as the next host of the conference and the one name that subsequently had me jumping up and down in my office. Here's why:

Charlemagne is one of the most important and largely overlooked early minimalists in music. From 1962 to 1970 he was a carillonneur at St Thomas's Church, New York, a job that directly influenced his subsequent music as he became fascinated with the overtones produced by the giant bells. (He evidently still has a carillon set-up in his home). In the 1970s, he was legendary for evening-length piano works (almost always on a Bösendorfer grand for the extra notes) that featured sustained chords repeated rapidly using a technique he termed "strumming." The result, which is hard to hear on the video, was a build up of harmonics that resound throughout the hall. As you can imagine, his music is best heard/experienced live, but the opportunities to do so are few and far between. He's lived overseas for the past 30 years, and rarely performs in the US as he finds it hard to travel, especially with his family, the stuff animal menagerie with which he always travels and performs. I've been entranced with his music since my adviser introduced me to it during my master's, so the opportunity to hear him live is the icing on the cake for this conference.

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