Charlemagne Palestine

Charlemagne Palestine is an American visual artist and musician. Born in Brooklyn, New York in 1947, Palestine began by singing sacred Jewish music and studying accordion and piano. At the age of 12 he started playing backup conga and bongo drums for Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso, Kenneth Anger, and Tiny Tim. From 1962 to 1969 Palestine was carillonneur for the Saint Thomas Episcopal Church in Manhattan, eventually creating a piece that consisted of 1,500 15 minute performances.

From 1968 to 1972, Palestine studied vocal interpretation with Pandit Pran Nath, experimented on kinetic light sculptures with Len Lye, composed music for Tony and Beverly Conrad’s film ‘Coming Attractions,’ taught at Cal Arts with Morton Subotnick, created the sound and movement piece ‘Illuminations’ with Simone Forti, and developed his own alternative synthesizer, the Spectral Continuum Drone Machine. Throughout the seventies Palestine created records, videos, sculptural objects, abstract expressionist visual scores, and performed regularly in the company of his stuffed animals. From 1980 to 1995, Palestine performed only rarely, exhibiting instead at Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; the Moderna Museet, Stockholm; and in documenta 8. During that time, he also founded the Ethnology Cinema Project in New York, which is dedicated to preserving films that document disappearing traditional cultures. Charlemagne Palestine gives us his answers to our 11+3 interview:


Fact 1: GESAMTKUNSTWERK, word invented by German philosopher Karl
Fredrich Eusebius Trahndorff in 1827

Fact 2: MESHUGAH, crazy, insane, in Hebrew and Yiddish

Fact 3: TEDDY BEARS, divinity toy invented in Brooklyn in 1902 for
children of all ages


1. What is the biggest inspiration for your music?
The sensation of soundssss themselvessss!!!

2. How and when did you get into making music?
My voice as a young boy singing along to early fifties pop songs and in synagogue.
3. What are 5 of your favourite albums of all time

Miles Davis – A Kind of Blue

John Coltrane – A Love Supreme

After the Gold Rush – Neil Young

Mahlers Ninth Symphony – Bruno Walter, Ravel Daphnis and Chloe-Pierre Monteux

4. What do you associate with Berlin?
The Zoo and trying to organise an enormous sound and visual SkyShow in 1979 for Templehof Airport for the Berlin Festival and failing because of the problems between
East and West Germany at that time.

5. What’s your favourite place in your town?

6. If there was no music in the world, what would you do instead?

7. What was the last record/music you bought?
Eliane Radigue… an old friend.

8. Who would you most like to collaborate with?
I already have collaborated with those i’ve wanted to.

9. What was your best gig (as performer or spectator)?
Too many best gigs in my life that I’ve performed in.

10. How important is technology to your creative process?
Technology of the voice, of the pipe organ, of the synthesizer, acoustical technology… all are partssss!

11. Do you have siblings and how do they feel about your career/art?
A dead older brother Howard Saul Palestine died in Santa Monica in 1975!! Have I had a career/art??? It’s beenn like a 65 year longgg good and bad dreammm!!!!

You can see Charlemagne Palestine on Sunday 29th of September at Zwingli-Kirche.

Photo © Stephan Wyckoff