Charlemagne Palestine & Janek Schaefer: Day of the Demons
Desire Path Recordings

Perfectly conceived for the twelve-inch vinyl format, Day of the Demons spreads two twenty-minute settings across two blood-red vinyl sides (500 copies produced). In keeping with the title, collaborators Charlemagne Palestine and Janek Schaefer, who began work on the project in 2008, have brought into being cryptic meditations designed to ward off evil spirits (the vinyl package purportedly includes a wearable mask for the listener to help keep them at bay). Of course, their respective reputations precede any project they might undertake, with Palestine a composer of many-decades standing known for piano performances that sometimes grow into multi-hour epics and Schaefer a highly regarded sound artist whose many honours include British Composer of the Year (Sonic Art 2008). No clarification is provided as to exactly how the two settings were produced, whether the two worked side-by-side in full collaborator mode, for example, or created the material more independently, but such concerns ultimately are footnotes to the recording itself.

Side one's “Raga de l'aprés midi pour Aude” (obviously evoking Debussy's Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune) overlays its underlying drone with high-pitched voices whose desperate ululations give the piece a diseased, raga-like feel. The sense of foreboding is heightened by Carillon bells (the kind typically found in a bell tower or church belfry) that toll insistently over a dense mass generated by shruti box and harmonica. On this imagined day of reckoning, a sense of impending doom builds in tandem with the feared arrival of some horrific spectre. Less hermetic by comparison, the second piece, “Fables from a Far Away Future” begins by threading field recordings of crowd noise and speaking voices into a dense fabric assembled from desk bells, sine waves, melodica, and chimes. The voices then fall away, leaving a wavering, organ-styled mass of chords to drone, its volume level fluctuating unpredictably, before the clamour of voices and chimes returns us to the land of the living. If the opening half plays like a gradual descent into the underworld, the second feels like a return to open air, with the earlier trial having been survived. It's this unusual thematic dimension that gives the project an individuating character that helps distinguish it from other recordings in the drone genre.

May 2012