Charlemagne Palestine is an American artist, performer and composer whose work has garnered a devoted following since he began in the early 1960s. A contemporary of Phillip Glass, Michael Nyman, Terry Riley, and Steve Reich, he has recently collaborated with a diverse range of experimental musicians including Pan Sonic, David Coulter, Tony Conrad, and Janek Schaeffer.
Palestine creates intense, ritualistic works of catharsis through performance, music, video and other media, with emblematic objects including stuffed toys, cognac, and scarves. Through his piano and organ works, he has developed a highly individual aesthetic centered around layered overtones and electronic drones, which build and change gradually, gently harmonizing. The composer uses a technique called 'strumming', where dense, hypnotic rhythms are created by percussive repetition. His performances are often shamanistic and overtly spiritual, reflecting his Russian-Jewish heritage and a romantic sensibility. Music critic Brian March notes, "there's a transcendent timelessness about Charlemagne Palestine's music that makes me feel as if it will always be around."
Throughout the 70s, Palestine produced a seminal body of performance-driven, video works in which he uses physicality, motion, and sound ritualistically to articulate internal states. Even the titles of his pieces — “Internal Tantrum” (1975), “Running Outburst” (1975) — suggest literal and metaphorical release or escape from confinement.
Born in Brooklyn as Chaim Moshe Tzadik Palestine, or Charles Martin, in 1945, Palestine studied at New York University, Columbia University, Mannes College of Music and at the California Institute of the Arts. He sang in synagogues as a child in Brooklyn, learning long traditional pieces by rote, and became a professional cantor and one of the world's few contemporary carillonists. He was a bell ringer at St. Thomas Church in New York in the 1960s and his early compositional work focused on the instrument. The church was directly across from the Museum of Modern Art, affording him open-air audiences from in and around the MOMA sculpture garden over seven years, with prominent figures such as Tony Conrad and Moondog among them. “I played two hymns before my cataclysms. Then I played sonorities that people hadn't heard in church bells. That’s how I met people.”
Palestine has released over twenty solo records. He has both performed and had his work exhibited internationally at festivals and institutions including the Venice Biennale, Italy; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Moderna Museet, Stockholm; Kunsthalle, Basel, Switzerland; Long Beach Museum of Art; Museum of Contemporary Art, Houston; Palais des Beaux-Arts, Bruxelles; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Documenta 8, Kassel; Walker Art center, Minneapolis; Art Institute of Chicago; Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva; and Musée d’Art Contemporain, Montreal. In 2010 Palestine’s video works were featured in the solo exhibition, VooDoo, at Wiels in Brussels. Palestine has been selected to participate in the 2014 Whitney Biennial. He lives and works in Brussels.