Charlemagne Palestine & Janek Schaefer
"Day of the Demons"
In 1995 my flatmate Miles Champion was introducing me to the world of
Avant Garde music. We went along to a church near Waterloo Station in London
to an evening with Charelmagne Palestine. This turned out to be a formative experience
for me, as experimental music was new to me, and I learnt a lot that night. Charlemagne is
an individual with great presence of character. The things I remember were waiting for 20mins
for the Bass to arrive in his durational organ piece. This seemed a long time, and I take a lot from
people who expand my horizons. I liked it, sitting there in a swarm of sound, inhabiting it. Studying
architecture at the time it struck a chord! The next piece was a very simple field recording of Brooklyn
where Charlemagne grew up. Nothing clever or fancy about it. Played from four speakers surrounding us,
he began simply describing the context of the recording to us, and then walking around the outside of the
audience in the pews. Circling us, and getting faster on each circuit, until he was running full pelt around us.
It struck me that I could not do that, but it totally suited his personality. Direct and straightforward. I usually
feel the need to make ideas complicated or clever to give them value. But I learnt that one should always try
to expand the boundaries of what you yourself are capable of. That's something I have tried to develop since
Keep it simple stupid
He inspired me
Many years later in 2008 I found myself at his home beginning an album collaboration together.
We talked and dined and drank and played and worked together on a few occassions over the next year,
using his new enormous Charleworld Studios in Brussels as a base. I found the Cariillon bells in the far corner,
we improvised with the shruti box, pedals, electronics, mixed instruments and vocals etc. We then took walks to
the local street carnival making location recordings where we took an octave of delightful desk bells and asked the
public to play them. We were open to exploring whatever took our interest. The results were then composed
for a luxurious LP format. A two slided slab of sound named after a far away island where once a year
they all stay indoors to let the Demons have the run of the streets for a day.
Deluxe flame-red clear LP with mask by Desire Path Recordings US
Buy It Here
Raga de l’aprés midi pour Aude
Shruti Box, Our Voices, Harmonica, Carillon Bells
Fables from a far away future
Location Recordings, Desk Bells, Prayer Bear, Sine Waves, Melodica, Chimes
Recorded on location at Charleworld Studios, Evere, Brussels.
Artwork & Design by Chris Koelle
Mastered by James Plotkin
HERE is a 70min interview with Charlemagne discussing his origins and memories and histories.
Great interview HERE
We'd like to thank Denis Boyer from Fear Drop for introducing us.
100% astounding new collab of evil bliss drone from Charlemagne Palestine & Janek Schaefer [anti-gravity bunny]
New Charlemagne Palestine/Janek Schaefer thing is strange. Strange and great. [Matt Poacher]
A Closer Listen
Side one's “Raga de l'aprés midi pour Aude” (obviously evoking Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune) overlays its underlying drone with high-pitched voices whose desperate ululations give the piece a diseased, raga-like feel. The sense of foreboding is heightened by Carillon bells (the kind typically found in a bell tower or church belfry) that toll insistently over a dense mass generated by shruti box and harmonica. On this imagined day of reckoning, a sense of impending doom builds in tandem with the feared arrival of some horrific spectre. Less hermetic by comparison, the second piece, “Fables from a Far Away Future” begins by threading field recordings of crowd noise and speaking voices into a dense fabric assembled from desk bells, sine waves, melodica, and chimes. The voices then fall away, leaving a wavering, organ-styled mass of chords to drone, its volume level fluctuating unpredictably, before the clamour of voices and chimes returns us to the land of the living. If the opening half plays like a gradual descent into the underworld, the second feels like a return to open air, with the earlier trial having been survived. It's this unusual thematic dimension that gives the project an individuating character that helps distinguish it from other recordings in the drone genre.
Experimedia, [Alex Cobb]
Fluid Radio [Fred Nolan]
In time he would play percussion alongside beat generation pioneer Allen Ginsberg, and built up a massive catalog. Closely associated with the minimalist movement, Palestine is said to prefer the term “maximalist,” for his efforts in securing the full gravity out of any instrument or arrangement.
He practically abandoned music during the age of disco. In an interview with Alan Licht, he said, “Around 1977 I became very negative, I began to do things unconsciously that I didn’t understand…. I was doing whatever I could to destroy whatever world I had created ten years before, without knowing, really, why.” Eventually Palestine “was practically destitute – I even went to live in a former leper colony in Hawaii because I felt like a leper.” By any measure his current acclaim constitutes a revival, although you could make the case that this is his second, at least as far as key reissues are concerned. Pascal Savy’s lively review of Palestine’s recent Cafe OTO performance with Oren Ambachi set the stage very well: the rituals, the cognac, the unconventional way the concert began, and the family of stuffed animals. Palestine says his soft toy entourage must “travel in the (airplane) cabin with me. I would never put them in the hold.”
His revival continues: May 1 will bring the release of some new material, Palestine’s collaboration with architecture student and sound artist Janek Schaefer, the four-year simmer Day of the Demons, courtesy of Desire Path Recordings.
The format is LP 33-rpm vinyl. There is scarcely enough room for one track on each side, roughly 40 minutes in all. Side A features “Raga de l’aprés midi pour Aude,” a brewing storm of shruti box and harmonica, every long measure answered with a faint, two-note carillion response. As hoped, the composers draw luxurious arrangements from a few instruments, a few notes, so the room is thick with an almost cinematic tension when the incantations start at four minutes in. Palestine’s endurance is not just copy: most other tracks would be wrapping up by now.
The composers chose the name “Raga” for accuracy, not just charm. A distinctly Central Asian ethic drives both the instrumentation and the vocals. The discernible chants are unsettling, are stark contrasts to the recycled breathing and exaggerated slowness of the shruti box. Measures turn to minutes as the quivering and abstract vocals lapse from anguished to optimistic and back again. Nor should we turn to Side B for any clear answers. “Fables from a far away future” begins with sparse and dissonant melodica, distracted chime improvisation, and field recordings of every stripe: an interview, a crowd, the sound of children playing, answering machine recordings of a girl reciting her nightly prayers. The mad carnival disharmony more agrees with the almost Caribbean voodoo implied by the album title. Swells of old synthesizer (the one-sheet offers only the tantalizing reference “sine waves”) close off the first act, after which the composers strip the canvas down to its dissonant core. A clip of one of Palestine’s long concerts demonstrates the performer engaging carillon keys with shims and then stepping away from the instrument, mugging for the camera as the thing drones away in discordant contentment. This way we can think of the fiery, nine-minute midsection here as a primer for some of those live marathon performances.
The track returns to its bedlam chimes now, its nonlinear melodica and field recordings: admonitions, slight commotion, the general haze of conversation. So while it is not a terrifying end, it not exactly network TV-decisive, either. Palestine once said, “It’s been a 50-year search to find a place in the world for an avant-garde, soft toy worshipping Quasimodo.”
We should feel fortunate for his wanderings.
His latest achievement is a collaboration with the equally creative-as-fuck sound artist Janek Schaefer. (If you don’t know about his Recorded Delivery piece, then click here). They have come together to produce a haunting and uneasy LP with Desire Path Recordings. The record is called Day Of The Demons and has a flame face on the cover, so you can see what they’re getting at without me trying to explain it. You really should just hear the album teaser and see what Desire Path says about it on the SoundCloud page; then you’ll really get freaked out.
In ‘Raga de l’aprés midi pour Aude’, slowly-unfurled buzz wavers and grows, bells toll, and sine tones whine, before Palestine’s unmistakable wail enters to lead the throng. There’s an urgency to the vocals, but they remain in control, and he passes through the storm victorious, with a weary call of triumph. ‘Fables from a Far Away Future’ explores broader thematic stages. Processed accordion and sleigh bells jangling over children’s voices in a schoolyard add a hint of uncertainty to otherwise bucolic sounds. We then hear children reciting prayers and a twanging with vocoder hum, before the electricity takes over in waves of soothing pop ambient and less-soothing organ drones.
The excitement of both pieces comes from the balance between fraught tension and sheltered solace. These dichotomies are placed side by side and in perfect harmony, creating music that is both menacing and menaced, cushioned and assuring. The limited blood red vinyl edition includes a mask to ward off the evil spirits, if you need any further incentive.
Touching Extremes [MASSIMO RICCI]
The same principle could be applied to Palestine himself as far as his famous vocal chanting is concerned: while, for example, in the overhyped Karenina he had produced two hours of unendurable falsetto howling that test the patience of anyone unwilling to pretend an appreciation, the invocations in “Raga De L’Aprés Midi Pour Aude”– first side of this magnificent vinyl LP – are delightfully suggestive and permeated with the right dose of spirituality, enhanced by a static mantle created with the aid of a sruti box, bells, various effects and unspecified “other instruments” that most probably comprise synthesizers and/or keyboards of some kind. Schaefer also vocalizes in a balanced yet floating prayer, a straightforwardly profound artistic gesture.
The second track “Fables From A Far Away Future” is opened and closed by location recordings and found sounds that the pair assembled in Brussels during the record’s groundwork, underlined at the outset by a classic ebb-and-flow wash à la Schaefer and by shrilling harmonium clusters. However the piece’s core lies in a massive organ drone – vaguely reminiscent of Palestine’s Schlingen-Blängen – that reveals its psychoactive might at sustained high volume, dynamic intensity and conflicting upper partials producing the anticipated result as everything around seems to lose materiality and definition. The voices heard at the end, just before the last pulse, appear as a reminder of the fact that – despite one’s ability of transcending states through sheer brainpower – there’s always someone near us who will bring things back to everyday normality, thus making those episodes of bodily desertion all the more memorable and precious in our memory.
Beginning with a simple drone, Day of the Demons slowly blooms into a blustery composition populated with delicately pronounced vowels and subtle bell chimes. Vocal chants linger above, sporadically dipping below the drone, redoubling as a ghostly chorus. It’s a series of slow-motion atomic blasts, each new shockwave mushrooming and settling in on itself like a collapsed blanket. It’s peering into another dimension to view a choir of flaggy wraiths as the staunch mourning bell tolls of fire nips at their bottoms. All this in the twenty-minute “Raga de L’pres midi pour Aude,” which comprises Side A of the release.
Day of the Demons Eastern-influenced sounds are alive and roaming here as the beehive of melting sound never settles into the parameters of “major” or “minor” tonality. Instead, we get a slow burn of mystic rhythm and spirit, garnished with an airy vocal sheen. The voices on the recording are both Palestine’s and Schaefer’s which, when combined with a shruti box and bits of harmonica sounds, create the contemplative, meditative first side of Day of the Demons.
After those sounds rumble away, a piercing melodica enters with shaky chimes rattling all around it. This is Side B , “Fables From a Far Away Future,” which features field recordings from a street carnival nearby the Brussels studio where the pair completed the album. The jam-packed “Fables” features intermittent desk bells that keep the atmosphere playful while still mysterious — a must. The track’s full, yet not overcrowded, and its twenty minutes enable it to become a journey, a travelogue of sorts for an avant-garde mind.
People’s voices cut in and vanish quickly. Words are unimportant; sounds are everything. Spots of ominous crunch dab the song in black, then tiny bells rescue it (and us) before total cataclysm. It’s big-top sound exploration, a detour from the ornate, decorative frontispiece of life’s carousel to the gritty, anxious back alley where piles of unwon giant teddy bears fill the dumpsters. And at the end, after all the bulbs burn out and wet newspapers line the street, you stroll through the deserted tents in dawn’s purple glow, acutely aware of the pleasant peculiarity of it all.
This is what Charlemagne Palestine and Janek Schaefer have accomplished on Day of the Demons. It’s a trip, a grand shuffle and a gratifying listen. Serve with wine or, as Palestine likes to imbibe on stage, cognac and cloves. Headphones or bulbous speakers a must. Eyes closed. Enjoy.
Even if the back-story feels weighed down in supernatural hocus-pocus, be warned: the music sounds frighteningly on-point. These two, twenty-minute drone-pieces that form the collaboration between Charlemagne & Janek Schaefer don’t score the solace of being ‘demon-free’, so to speak, and instead capture an intense and disturbing struggle to survive unscathed. The lead-up to this battle for the soul, “Raga de L’apres Midi Pour Aude”, works as a sort of establishing shot, instilling a buzzing drone with patient bell tolls and old-world voices singing and chanting over one another. Although certainly eerie, Side A encompasses not only a world away from our listening spot – one that sounds ancient, everlasting and is therefore thought-provoking – but also a cultural and religious hotbed of unknown origin and doctrine.
So when “Fables From a Far Away Future” takes us into the streets – replete with outdoor field-recordings and chatter drifting in and out – the ritual feels pretty well wrapped up. But what happens next? I can’t be sure but Side B of Day Of the Demons sounds very much like an exorcism from within. Layers of tense synths overwhelm, consolidating and descending upon the listener in swarms, before a child-like toy-box melody – yeah, nothing creepy about that – brings relief to the feverish climax.
Day Of the Demons is more convincing in its ability to construct dream-space than it is as a practical listening experience, which is a compliment because I’m basically saying the record should be felt more than it should be heard. I don’t expect many drone fans to be jamming to Day Of the Demons in the grocery aisles because its intensity weighs more appropriate for a sit-down event than for routine errand running. Like a quality scary movie night, Day Of the Demons should be saved for special, um, ritualistic occasions.
Palestine and Schaefer accomplish the album’s most immersive passages by way of tonal instabilities. Here, the drones threaten never to resolve, and the initial discomfort that these pure oscillations provoke gives way to a powerful but alien emotional state. On “Raga de L’apres midi pour Aude,” the duo tempers that state by subtly shifting chords and introducing chilling bell tones and vocal glossolalia to keep attention. The reference to afternoon ragas in the title is apt; there is a similar drowsiness present here, as if evoking a space at the edge of dream consciousness. The raga will evoke many resonances with La Monte Young, particularly his work with the rest of the Theatre of Eternal Music.
It’s at the beginning of “Fables From a Far Away Future” when the meditative state dissolves, though the unhinging atmosphere remains as they layer children’s bedtime prayers in loops. It’s a strange incantation, but perhaps it serves to protect participants from demonic influences waiting in the wings. Samples return later in the piece, but they seem to have less sense there and largely arrest the mood the duo has taken so long to develop. Perhaps then we arrive back in waking consciousness (apparently the samples come from field recordings of a nearby festival), but it feels as if Palestine and Schaefer were just getting started down the rabbit hole.
The most crucial contribution to this album’s affects are the purity of its production and the fullness of its frequency range. Listen to it loudly on a system with good bass response, and you will feel your chest vibrate. The bells sound so full that you’d almost believe you were in a temple. This purity enables the tonal instabilities to manifest in full force, which deepens the wrenching sensation of the drones. For all of Palestine and Schaefer’s past conceptual work, Day of the Demons strikes an almost purely visceral layer. It’s not a comfortable feeling, but it’s a powerful tool for whatever magic you’re working. [MATTHEW PHILLIPS]
JANEK SCHAEFER LIVE AT 'FREE RANGE', CANTERBURY
After recounting this story (and how nice it is to hear experimental musicians and artists talk to their audiences, as the recent Quiet Design podcasts also highlight), Schaefer put on a record for us — in fact, the very LP he had made with Palestine. As the album’s foreboding drones and nasal chants began to unfurl, like smoke from an incense burner, he slowly began to add other sounds from a range of sources. Through being tweaked with effects, or simply taken out of context and juxtaposed, the character of these sounds was transformed: the whine of passing traffic became the swoosh of a whirling dervish’s cloak, an everyday conversation in French became an exotic ethnographic study, and the nasal singing, in turn, moved closer towards everyday conversation. All washed in gorgeous, yet powerful, mind-altering drone, with radio static and tape hiss from a boombox (a birthday gift, authentic 1982 model, so we were told).
The reason why Schaefer opened his performance with a story, he said, is that this is what his work does: it tells stories. This comment could be interpreted in several ways, and here’s one: we often speak of literary narratives transporting us to another place, one that may or may not resemble a location reachable by train or plane, or be named on official maps and records, but in either case one that must be at least to some extent ‘real’ because we occupy it in some way, even if only imaginatively. And Schaefer’s performance too created this kind of place, one that sounded at times like France or India or Brooklyn or London without being any one of them, one that certainly wasn’t ‘here’, in this room, upstairs in the wonderful and cosy Veg Box café in Canterbury, and yet somewhere that by the end of the performance I could attest to having been. A kind of stationary travel, a time that couldn’t be measured in minutes and seconds.
Perhaps this is all whimsical nonsense, but there’s no doubt that the performance was highly appreciated by the audience laid flat out on beanbags or curled up on sofas, fellow-travellers at least for a moment. This was the first of a new season of weekly events at the Veg Box under the banner ‘Free Range’, aiming to incorporate experiments in music, poetry, improvisation, and the like. If Schaefer’s contribution was anything to go by, the series will do much to enrich the cultural life of the city.
- Nathan Thomas for Fluid Radio
[A little Quicktime movie lies below which I made in my shed using a long lost 'Prayer Bear' teddy from the attic]
To coincide with the release of Day of the Demons LP
A highly limited edition of the original hand made Uleybeast are now available at £33.33 each
For a little more info & to Buy One of the herd Click Here