Charlemagne Palestine/Rhys Chatham

Youuu + Mee = Weee
Sub Rosa SRV367-3xCD

One of the hallowed shibboleths of advertising – and sometimes legitimate discourse – has been “accept no substitute”. The expression is particularly germane when it comes to discussing electro-acoustic drone sounds. Although the concept of creating extended sound meditations with limited chordal evolution has been used with varying degrees of acumen by sophisticated improvises at its zenith and plodding electronic popsters at its nadir, the scope of the idiom is best expressed by its originators.

All of which leads to this exemplary three-CD set by Americans Charlemagne Palestine and Rhys Chatham. Although both were part of the New York-centred gestalt of that time, Palestine who plays piano, organ and sort of vocalizes on these tracks, plus Chatham, who uses trumpet, guitar and a loop pedal, haven’t recorded together before this, making the set doubly valuable. Like the prototypical eccentric, Palestine, who first experimented with stripped down ritualistic sounds about four decades ago, usually confines himself to mystical styled, often solo performances with a glass of cognac, clove cigarettes and stuffed animals as props. Meanwhile Chatham’s affiliations have been with no-wave and punk performers such as Thurston Moore and Glenn Branca.

Lacking visuals and with any sort of Rock-styled influences not even inferred, each of the entire CD-length performances unrolls indolently with repetative ostinati created by measured loops while different instrumental combinations are brought into play. By the completion of the tracks, which last anywhere from almost 41½ to 60 minutes, like acolytes in a developing creed ingesting a sacred text, the upshot become as inevitable as cascading tides or moon phases. Hearing these extended textures which seem almost endless and vary infinitesimally in pitch or velocity, it’s as if no sound has existed before the disc began playing and none will exist afterwards. The effect is beyond hypnotic or mesmerizing.

There is some diversity however. “First” matches shrill plunger trumpet tones with patches of key prodding from Palestine’s piano. The keyboardist also contributes some whiny vocalizing that reaches a crescendo of Smurf-like yodeling, while at the same time, Chatham’s trumpet snorts out snatches of the jagged refrain. With the resulting creation suggesting a protoplasmic mass trying to ooze from its confines, the finale becomes outer-directed enough to revisit the initial piano pitches. “Third”, which clocks in at more than 52½ minutes, is also trumpet-centred, but dampened, when Chatham’s licks at times approximate a Charlie Shavers obbligato to Billie Holiday – if one can accept Palestine’s Captain Beefheart-like grunts as equivalent to Lady Day’s. In an (overdubbed?) gospel-like fashion Palestine later ups the intensity with churning organ swells as well as the piano continuum as Chatham does the same, allowing harsh guitar licks to slice through the sonic mishmash. Incredibly enough, the ending is both compelling and consistent. As dynamic cross tones from all sources decelerate, like ingredients in an inclusive recipe the sounds actually meld and bond. With its swirling organ judders that echo throughout plus deemphasized guitar chording, the theme of the hour-long “Second” moves efficiently enough but as a captivating monochord without much contrast or polyphony. Because of this synthesis, several false climaxes reach crescendos but never evolve into other sequences and are soon subsumed into the oatmeal-like thickness of pumping reverberations. As the occasional finger-style guitar lick or back-of-throat cries are heard and then disappear, each timbre is carefully spooned onto the resulting hypnotic mix.

Taking the three full-CD tracks together, it’s as if all aural air has been squeezed out of the performances, with the compression creating a deity-like afterimage that can be alternately admired or adored. One could say in fact that with Youuu + Mee = Weee Palestine and Chatham have creates compelling devotional sounds for agnostics, with no other baggage than the musical.

Although listening to all three CDs may be too much at one setting – perhaps producing unforeseen consequences like perceiving visions – immersing oneself in one at a time can result in somber reflection and perhaps inner peace. Mystical without the trapping of cant, these creations demonstrate the power of authentic sounds from true originals.

—Ken Waxman

Track Listing: CD1: 1. First CD2: 1. Second CD3: 1. Third

Personnel: Rhys Chatham (trumpet, guitar and loop pedal) and Charlemagne Palestine (piano, organ and voice)