Eliane Radigue Transamorem - Transmortem

[Important; 2011]

Styles: drone
Others: Ellen Fullman, Phill Niblock, Morton Feldman, Pauline Oliveros

Born between wars, Eliane Radigue’s musical journey began in the Paris studios of musique concrète OGs Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry during the 1950s and 60s, experimenting with magnetic tapes, honing her craft in sound construction. But it wasn’t until the 1970s when Eliane moved to New York City — because as she said, “There were no synthesizers in Paris”— that many of her recorded works and beloved pieces were formulated. During this period, Eliane adopted the ARP 2500 modular synthesizer, a system that endured in her compositions through the 1990s despite radical technological improvements in electronic music. With this equipment, Radigue developed an unfolding of sound into a stasis that resembles the minimalists of her era but was nonetheless complex in its timbrel dynamics.

First performed in 1974, Transamorem - Transmortem is an example of one of Eliane Radigue’s earlier synthesizer-driven pieces. Completed shortly before Radigue’s immersion into Tibetan Buddhism, it embodies the mediative structures of her future religion. As with many of her works of the era, it is seemingly unvaried, harping on a singular tone for its entirety. Yet in fact the piece is perpetually changing, with each variation sitting on the border between just discernible and indistinguishable.

The solitary nature of Transamorem - Transmortem’s tones are compounded by their reaming persistence, either hovering around discomforting tonal references or altogether forgoing any referential centrality. The piece exhibits one of Radigue’s fascinations, “when the ear experiments with uncertainty,” when the ear is neither sure of what it heard nor whether any sound actually occurred. Through Transamorem - Transmortem’s extended repetition, the ear is slowly disoriented, until, as Morton Feldman said, “There is a suggestion that what we hear is functional and directional, but we soon realize that this is an illusion; a bit like walking the streets of Berlin — where all the buildings look alike, even if they’re not.”

Speaking of her music in general, Radigue said, “I am working with the perception of time.” This effect is displayed prominently in Transamorem - Transmortem, whose extreme duration coupled with its tepid continuity slow time into molasses and reorients temporal reality. The piece simultaneous tempts and punishes inattentiveness, like when your mind drifts astray during a novel, only to later, upon regaining awareness, find yourself in a new time and place.

The similarities between Feldman and Radigue continue, despite, to the best of my knowledge, only a tertiary affiliation between the two. While Radigue’s aim was to explore our “perception of time,” Feldman sought to unravel the connections between musical form and memory. In regard to his late style and the composition Triadic Memories in particular, Feldman said:

The question of scale, for me, precludes any concept of symmetry or asymmetry from affecting the eventual length of my music. As a composer I am involved with the contradiction in not having the sum of the parts equal the whole. The scale of what is actually being represented, whether it be of the whole or of the part, is a phenomenon unto itself. The reciprocity inherent in scale, in fact, has made me realize that musical forms and related processes are essentially only methods of arranging material and serve no other function than to aid one’s memory.

Toward the end of his life, Feldman realized that compositional conventions are in fact tantamount to memory. And, with this idea in hand, he subsequently committed his last works to probing the outer limits of duration, obfuscating his compositional process in order to corrupt memory. It seems that much of Radigue’s compositions throughout the 70s, 80s, and 90s, including Transamorem - Transmortem, sought similar ends, instead through electronic media. As a result, this piece is unique with every listen, and the ambiguity induced by Transamorem - Transmortem’s scale and methods is delightful and always refreshing.

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