Charlemagne Palestine (born Charles Martin or Chaim Moshe Tzadik Palestine August 15, 1945, or 1947, in Brooklyn, New York) is an American composer, performer, and visual artist. Palestine has studied at New York University, Columbia University, Mannes College of Music, and the CalArts.
A contemporary of Philip Glass, Terry Riley, Phill Niblock, and Steve Reich, Palestine wrote intense, ritualistic music in the 1970s, intended by the composer to rub against Western audiences’ expectations of what is beautiful and meaningful in music. A composer-performer originally trained to be a cantor, he always performed his own works as soloist. His earliest works were compositions for carillon and electronic drones, and he is perhaps best known for his intensely performed piano works. He also performs as a vocalist: in Karenina he sings in the counter tenor register and in other works he sings long tones with gradually shifting vowels and overtones while moving through the performance space or performing repeated actions such as throwing himself onto his hands.
Palestine’s Strumming Music (1974) remains his best-known work. It features over 45 minutes of Palestine forcefully playing two notes in rapid alternation that slowly expand into clusters. He performed this on a nine-foot Bösendorfer grand piano with the sustain pedal depressed for the entire length of the work. As the music swells (and the piano gradually detunes), the overtones build and the listener can hear a variety of timbres rarely produced by the piano. A recording of Strumming Music was also Palestine’s second vinyl album in the 1970s, reissued on CD in 1991. Since then, several additional recordings (featuring Palestine on piano, organ, harmonium, and voice) from the 1970s—including new recordings of more recent works such as Schlingen-Blängen—have become available.
Palestine’s performance style is ritualistic: he generally surrounds himself (and his piano) with stuffed animals, smokes large numbers of kretek (Indonesian clove cigarettes), and drinks cognac.
Music critic and scholar Kyle Gann named Palestine composer of the month in June 2005.