Charlemagne Palestine’s performances are always overseen by a motley assembly of stuffed toy “divinities”. When he travels to play, they spill from a suitcase to surround his piano. They feature here both in the artwork – images of an installation constructed by Palestine in cahoots with musician/Idiosyncratics label boss Yannick Franck and artist Helena Dietrich – and, by extension, in the teeming multiplicity voices caught up in this intense and all-consumingly elemental performance – a single 50 minute piece, recorded live in Brussels in February 2013.
Ssingggg Sschlllingg Sshpppingg is quite different to Palestine at the piano in lullingly mellifluous ‘strumming music’ mode. This is full-on immersive drone: Palestine not as the impish avatar of his divinities, rather a dark magus, playing on elemental forces.
The silliness of the album title is appropriate only to the naive, childishly zen calm of its brief introductory passage and coda, and even there it’s suppressed. In between is a fever dream of implacable, encroaching dread. It reminded me of Palestine in concert with Oren Ambarchi, a performance I wrote up as: “an unabated flood of processed sound…charged with tension”, but all of those qualities are amplified here.
The first 2:40 is an intro featuring the resonant frequency hum of a ‘singing’ wine glass accompanied by Palestine’s vocal chant cum wordless nasal mewl.
At the beginning of the main movement the gambit is replayed, only with singing glass tones replaced by a swarm of synthesized sound and Palestine chanting the word “Sing”, and, ultimately, drawing wordless sound into syllables, “I – love – to – sing.”
Eight minutes and counting, and a held synth tone drones through the static swarm, an ominous but as-yet subtle swell, into which Palestine, at steady intervals, repeats his brief mantra, each iteration of “sing” more emphatic than the last, and the drone slowly seeps, creeps and deepens.
After fifteen minutes other textures are layered in, gaseous currents bubbling within the drone, and a melody is picked out in synthetic tones on what sounds like a child’s toy. There are the first noises off, and faint traces of speech, spectral presences dimly discerned in the fug which, after twenty minutes, burst through as agitative, possibly riotous impulses: irruptive parade drumming and a faint cacophony of shouting (field recordings fed into the mix). Still the drone thickens and darkens, but it doesn’t mask the clamour.
At twenty four minutes there’s a drone surge, and an indistinct choral harmonisation of voices, but the gradual ratcheting-up of tension seems remorseless. A skein of artificial avian sonics is layered on as the chorale spills over into a cacophony of childish babel, that parade drumming and other miscellaneous input sonic detritus swirling and swelling in a mass that threatens to breech its bounds.
By the 43rd minute this wall of sound reaches storm intensity, the sounds of flood and rain folded into a now more literal swell, enfolding the choir that sings on at the apex of storm and stress.
At the 47th the drone becomes fully monstrous, subsumes everything, and suddenly cuts to a resounding silence.
In a coda, we hear again the ringing of a wine glass, and a close-miked Palestine shuffling, picking up a vocoder to tap out a few times in a synthetically childish voice: “I love to sing … with you / Let’s sing together / Sing / Sing / Sing.” He accompanies the last iteration in his own voice, and then both together say “bye bye”. It was just a nightmare. Wake up.
Buy Ssingggg Sschlllingg Sshpppingg direct from Idiosyncratics.