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15 Questions to Charlemagne Palestine

img  Tobias

Hi! How are you? Where are you?
Hello Tobias! I am very well these days. Since more than 7 years I live in Brussels Belgium with my wife Aude. A nice change from Nyc my hometown or from years of living in many cities in France, Belgium, Italy, Germany and Switzerland during the eighties and nineties like an artistic nomad.

What’s on your schedule right now?
Lately we were in San Francisco where I gave a 3 week intensive course at the Art Institute called “The Pied Piper of Palestine”. I took my “tribe” (I hate the term student. It can easily be used as a weapon to castrate people) all around the San Francisco Bay area and they videoed and recorded lots of interesting unusual things and later we presented a MediaBlitz of all these elements for the rest of the students and faculty. It Was a big success but as I hate schools and the Academic mentality (even in an alternative school like the Art Institute) I’ll keep away from that kind of project for some time. Then we were recently in Rome to premiere a piece for a unique piano in the world with 2 bodies one played with the feet and the other with the hands called a Borgato. I’ll attach their website to this interview. It was a piece of more than one hours length where I begin with the highest notes of the hands piano and eventually bring the 2 pianos playing together (as a teenager I was a carilloneur at Saint Thomas Church next to the Museum of Modern Art in Nyc and invented radical new musics for this instrument which also you play with your fists and your feet at the same time, that’s why the Borgato was a “natural” for me to perform on. We just returned from Amsterdam where De Appel an avant-garde art and performance space was celebrating it’s 30th anniversary and I was one of the first performance artists invited in 1976 and did action art and performance and did a radical dialogue video in 1977 there called “Where it’s coming from” about the difficulty and loneliness of Performance Art even in those days when it was much better subsidised, with the founder Wies Smals who later with the the 2 other original founders died in a private plane crash over the Swiss Alps in 1982. Here in Brussels there is a show on now at a gallery here called Marijke Schreurs and the expo is entitled “Thinking about Animals” and I’ve created a multi-media “Spirit House” for a large Lion sculpture that I built in Geneva with the help of the Steiff Toy Company of Giengen Germany in 1983 who predated my 6 metre God Bear that I finally built with their help for Documenta 8 in Kassel Germany in 1987. So I’m doing exactly what I usually prefer to do, meaning Everything and Everything always something else and something different yet still keeping all my long embilical chords of 40 + years continuing and evolving.

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist? Do you see yourself as part of a certain tradition or as part of a movement?
My biggest influence is probably not a who in the singular but coming from a disappearing and assimilating  post war Polish-Russian Jewish community in exile in Nyc I craved something more “Primitive Tribal” and less Western Civilisationesque than most of my friends and collegues. Early I luved the Gamelans, songs, dances, masques, costumes, ceremonies of the Javanese for example and then India and Polynesia and Native Americans and Aboriginals meaning Tribes with “Gesamtkunstwerk”concepts (total art, not only musician, only painter, only dancer, only sculptor, only shaman priest, but all integrated into a total multi-genral civilisation of long history and profound spirituality.

What’s your view on the music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
In the continuation of the spirit of your last question, I don’t really appreciate the notion of a  „Music Scene“ separated from everything else  The problems for me since the beginning have always been more  the financial problem. Music that pays and Music that doesn’t! Often music that pays is overexploited, used as a propaganda media tool and attacks the scene like a machine gun while music that doesn’t well pay can often be mysterious magical and by definition always in jeopardy and seeking ways to continue and survive. My musics are more connected to the 2nd category. Only from time to time in the past +40 years did I touch a bit the 1st category.

What does the term „new“ mean to you in connection with music?
I just look in the dictionary for the definition of  “new”:

Having originated or occurred lately; not early or long  in being; recent; fresh; modern; a new regime; a new fashion; a new potato. I live in my own new regime which touches on many early and ancient  older regimes as well as being inspired by new technical and social possibilities. I believe that every moment should be fresh, though fresh moments can contain ancient or “old” as well as “new”. I’d like to be thought of  more like a “new potato”.than a “new fashion” or a “new regime”.

How do you see the relationship between sound and composition?

Sound is my source !! Everything else follows. I prefer to compose in the “present” based on what I hear from sound in the present.  As they are most often “my sounds” that’s the composition part. I searched and discovered and washed myself in these sounds and everyday I “wash” myself  with  these “liquids” and “Charlecomposition” is what follows.

How strictly do you separate improvising and composing?
In “Charlecomposition” the word improvising is not a word  appreciated. It’s a straitjacket word that a Western Cartesian society has overused and underdeveloped during the 20 century and now the beginning of the 21st. Improving is a nice word!! To always try to improve, whatever that might mean at any given instant. I can live with that word. So "Improving Charlecomposition” might be my “motto”.

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
Authentic! Present! Ready! Vibrating! Communing! Communicating! Inspiring! Levitating! Ascending! Ecstatic!

A lot of people feel that some of the radical experiments of modern compositions can no longer be qualified as “music”. Would you draw a border – and if so, where?
In my dictionary, the first definition for Music is one that I like and can prescribe to “Any Art over which the Muses presided”. If the Muses are present then for me it’s Music and if they are not it’s either to invite them or else it’s Not Music.

Are “serious” and “popular” really two different types of music or just empty words without a meaning?
I don’t especially like your 2 headings “serious” & “popular”. It sounds very moralist to me. In Charleworld, Serious Musings can be Popular and Popular Musings can be Serious. I adore the Religious, the Dramatic, the Comic, the Folkloric, the Mysterious, the Frightening, the Soothing, the Confusing, the Incomprehensible, the Wild, the Healing, the Violent, the Aggressive, the Invisible & Inaudible, these can all be SerioPopular or PopuloSerious in Charleworld.

 Do you feel an artist has a certain duty towards anyone but himself? Or to put it differently: Should art have a political/social or any other aspect apart from a personal sensation?
I was born in a modest working class immigrant neighborhood in Brooklyn. My parents were workers. I became international by some talent, hunger for culture, some good breaks, some bad breaks and lots of interaction with artists and all sorts of people anywhere and everywhere where I roamed. That’s who I am. That’s what I did. So people were there. I was there. Humanity was there. As artist and person I did what I did. I helped who I helped. I fought who I fought. I luved who I luved. I thought what I thought and felt what I felt. It is and never was and never will be for me the “World as a Personal Vacuum” where no one else counts but the Protagonist.

True or false: People need to be educated about  music, before they can really appreciate it.
Beware of Educators!!! Beware of  Educators!!! Beware of  Educators!!!

Blesssed be the Appreciators!!! Blesssed be the Appreciators!!! Blessed be the Appreciators!!!

Find an Appreciator to help you Appreciate if you must!!

But  Beware of Educators!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Imagine a situation in which there’d be no such thing as copyright and everybody were free to use musical material as a basis for their own compositions – would that be an improvement to the current situation?.
For many many years I neither paid taxes anywhere on the planet or received royalties. Now I do both. In my case the taxes eat up more than the royalties. This is all a part of a modest artists social problem with society. I as an artist have let some people steal and other people pay. Maybe Robin Hood Palestine is my name.

You are given the position of artistic director of a festival. What would be on your program?
monks&punks&dogs&wogs&zulu&pupus&young&old&shy&bold&ugly&luvly&silly&hilly&let’s not forget the willy-nilly!!!


Many artists dream of a “magnum opus”. Do you have a vision of what yours would sound like?



Greetings too from Aude


Godbear (Barooni) 1998
Schlingen - Blängen (New World Records) 1999
Continuous Sound Forms (Alga Marghen) 2000
Karenina (Durtro) 2000
Mort Aux Vaches (Mort Aux Vaches) 2000
Music For Big Ears (Staalplaat) 2001
Negative Sound Study (Alga Marghen) 2002
In Mid-Air (Alga Marghen) 2003
March 7, 1975 (Alga Marghen) 2003
Gantse Mishpuchah (Fringes Recordings) 2004


Charlemagne Palestine

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