An audience with Charlemagne Palestine: the performance artist and playful auteur of modern minimalist composition details a life searching for otherworldly peace.
Born Chaim Moshe Tzadik Palestine (or Charles Martin) to Eastern European Jewish immigrant parents in Brooklyn, New York, Charlemagne Palestine is a musician, filmmaker and visual artist whose contemporaries include Tony Conrad, Laurie Anderson and Steve Reich, but who playfully defies the conventions and contexts most associated with modernist composition. After singing alto in synagogues as a young man and years before attending art school, he became a carillonneur in the Saint Thomas Episcopal Church across the street from the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan: a sonic and visual pairing that feels apt, considering the inter-disciplinary breadth of Palestine’s work and the fact that he’s known to prefer the term “trance music” to “minimal”; in his own words, “a kind of fundamental transportation to leave the ordinary.” Despite this, Palestine’s most well known work, 1974’s “Strumming Music for Piano, Harpsichord and String Ensemble,” is regarded as a benchmark piece for modern minimalist composition and performance. Although working in various academic and creative institutions, Palestine was known for rarely performing live before moving to Europe in 1995, where he began playing more regularly and releasing much of his early solo and more contemporary collaborative work on physical formats, such as Youuu + Mee = Weee, with American multi-instrumentalist Rhys Chatham. He currently makes his home in Brussels, Belgium, where we met him for this interview.