For aficionados of the modern minimalist movement, a small handful of works have achieved mythic status, often warping their creators into mysterious, nearly other worldly gurus of drone. The Black Record by La Monte Young comes to mind, as does Terry Riley’s A Rainbow in Curved Air, Steve Reich’s Music for 18 Musicians, and possibly Philip Glass’s Einstein on the Beach. Each of these works, with the exception of La Monte Young, who is an enigma of his own, has maintained a powerful intrigue for new listeners. I think it’s because they are often juxtaposed with epic scenery or movie trailers — if you ever see a cool picture, chances are some Philip Glass song in the background could probably make it more awesome that it was before. But part of the problem that comes with having three or four titans of minimalism is that lesser known artists like Phil Niblock or Charlemagne Palestine are often removed from the conversation, if only because they aren’t as immediately accessible as some of their contemporaries.
It’s unfortunate that this is the case, because albums like Palestine’s Four Manifestations on Six Elements deserve to be both remembered and praised as incredible contributions to minimalism and experimental music. Palestine’s music is about as minimal as it gets; often employing nothing but a single piano, it somehow manages to sound full and massive through all his extended pieces. Patterns, which sometimes consist of only two or three notes, are repeatedly endlessly and slowly expanded into larger tone clusters as Palestine coaxes all manner of unusual timbres out of his instrument. Unlike Philip Glass or Steve Reich, who usually compose in relatively simple patterns but perform with large ensembles to flesh out their music, Palestine’s early work is all a one-man show which allows him an incredible amount of nuance and control. There is much beauty to be found in these simple keystrokes, something producers who just can’t resist adding an extra drum fill here or there should keep in mind more often.