One readily pictures Charlemagne Palestine sitting at the Boesendorfer piano bestrewn with teddy bears, glass of cognac at hand, depressing (permanently) the sustain pedal and beginning to caress the keys. Softly at first, in calm rhythmic rows, as though coaxing the sound out. A steady, velvet hammering emerges, gradually gaining force and eventually assuming true physicality as the instrument undergoes a relentless, mounting assault. No indication of recording date is given, though Joan LaBarbara's review of a 1975 concert is included in the booklet and one assumes this performance is from around that time. To that extent, it fits in with the minimalist ethos that was then prevalent; if anything, "Strumming Music" is slightly reminiscent of Steve Reich's work from the early 70's both in the rhythms employed and in the obsessiveness of concept. But Palestine occupies a unique place among the minimalists, perhaps bridging the gap between composers like Reich and La Monte Young. By keeping the piano strings undampened and by the considerable physical force he used while playing, he allows clouds of overtones to manifest in ways that suggest the sort of justly intonated tunings that Young employed although, in fact, none are used. Technical concerns aside, Palestine appears to have been aiming for an ecstatic kind of experience, one similar to that aspired to by Eastern singers like Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan or Pandit Pran Nath. It's an idea that perhaps doesn't bear repeating more than once, but that one time is pretty thrilling. Strumming Music is a monumental work and belongs in the collection of any self-respecting fan of contemporary minimalism.
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AllMusic Review by Brian Olewnick