Review Summary: A minimalist performance that should not go unnoticed.
"Strumming Music" came to my attention thanks to rateyourmusic.com user, ormi. ormi, like myself, is a Toby Driver nut, so of course I'm always glancing through his favorite records and trying to find things that are just as innovative as Kayo Dot, but that don't reek the pretension that most "progressive" pieces seem to. In regards to ormi's taste, they are certainly exceptionally vast for a 17-year-old boy, but his fetish for the extremely abstract is something that I often don't relate to. See, I am all for revolution in terms of musical composition, but when bands seem to exist only for the sake of playing "revolutionary" music, that really pisses me off. My favorite part about music is connecting with some sort of arbitrary emotion that the artist left in their piece. So, with a slight hesitance, I downloaded Charlemagne Palestine's supposed opus "Strumming Music".
Essentially, introducing this piece with a one note paced out playing of a scale, the gorgeous tone of the Bosendorfer is revealed. A nine foot long grand piano was used to play this piece and the sustain pedal on it was depressed the entire length of the recording. After the short intro, the rest of the song is basically a 50-minute gradual dynamic build-up of two notes. The intensity at which these notes are alternated at is obviously varying in strength throughout the piece as well as the addition of other notes to form clusters of sound. As the time passes, the piano slowly begins to detune and various harmonics and timbres slowly expose themselves throughout the 50-minute sprawl. As I said before, emotion is a key aspect to my favorite records and the power with which this carefully restricted piece is played in seems to be unrivaled to me in terms of "compositional" pieces. Certainly it is some of the most emotive playing of any minimalist composer and as the song slowly builds into the sonic glory its end product represents, you can feel a gradual cerebral pulse of relaxation come over you. The minimalism in this piece is just as gorgeous as the tone the entire piece has. As the tempo slowly raises, you can feel yourself anticipating that finale of crescendo. The intelligence it must've took to come up with the idea for this piece and the patience it must've taken to play it are both seemingly unparalleled in the minimalist field. Some may be turned off by the repetition found on "Strumming Music," but that is what makes it such an essential listen due to the intelligence Palestine instilled into that repetition. The piece is a beautiful example of what one can do with the illusion of harmonies.
While, Philip Glass's "Glassworks" will most likely always remain my essential minimalist recording, "Strumming Music" is an excellent sonic experiment and an extremely emotional performance. Palestine is clearly an underappreciated genius of his genre and nothing demonstrates that more than this recording. While Glass focused on creating movie soundtracks and such, Palestine paved his way into obscurity with insanely original compositions like "Strumming Music." For listeners who are eager to test their patience and their concepts of music, "Strumming Music" should be an instant addition to your collection.