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Eliane Radigue - Vice Versa / Triptych

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Artist: Eliane Radigue

Album: Vice Versa / Triptych

Label: Important

Review date: Nov. 30, 2009

The lengthy drone-based works of French electronics composer Eliane Radigue inspire rapturous praise among her obsessive followers. Count me among them. There’s something so immersive and natural about her soundworld that even the cranky musings of record reviewers can’t detract from the raw power and sheer enchantment they create. These two important releases of archival work feature compositions that, while not as fully realized as her Trilogie de la Mort, served as crucial formative experiments in Radigue’s decades-long relationship with layered sound and with the ARP synthesizer.

The earlier of the pieces, Vice Versa, takes off from tape experiments popular in the mid-20th century, when folks like Pierre Henry or Iannis Xenakis labored with razor and spools of magnetic. Radigue was, even before her discovery of the synthesizer and the Bardo Thodol, compelled by long-form drones and pulses. This release consists of two separate recordings of the 30-minute composition, meant to be played simultaneously.

Whether intended as a kind of palindrome or (more likely) simply as a means to widen the field of the listener’s experience, the piece is more successful than its conceit might suggest. In part, this is because the piece reveals features of Radigue’s composing that have since been either fully absorbed or abandoned altogether. For example, at one point there is a pronounced experimentation with layered tempi, where the contours of the sound are more immediate and audible than I’m accustomed to hearing. And Radigue flirts with instrumentalism on a couple of occasions, with a garland of tiny chimes seeming to cloud around the steadily proceeding low thrum or some high string noises faintly audible outside an elastic deep note. But aside from these moments of interest, the piece also succeeds because of its careful harvesting of these elemental tones, yielding singing choruses of prayer bowls, clean oscillations, ghosts, and flickering panes of glass.

After being introduced to Tibetan Buddhism in 1974, Radigue went to the shed, as they say. Triptych gives her 1978 composition its proper attention, presenting in vivid sound Radigue’s performance of all three parts on her ARP synthesizer. As with Vice Versa, there are moments of relative surprise in this piece, even though it represents the beginning of the methodology that preoccupies Radigue to this day. The first part of the piece, by the time it settles in at around 10 minutes, has an actual line (even if it sounds like it’s constructed from the wind, there are whole tones that continually repeat). But the power of this piece is achieved in its movement between presence (felt in the steadfast lower register, buffeted with what sound like flanged waves and slow, vast inhalations) and absence (the gathering of oscillations, coalescing like guitar feedback, and then their dissolution). The decay of time, of tone, of form itself is what impresses about the piece (and is, for those who care, the most explicit conceptual link to the Vajrayana tradition).

Never frosty, never remote, this is music in which to lose yourself, with all the resonances entailed in that notion. Its edges are at times imperceptible, yet the music seems to saturate nearly everything. There are few composers who reach such spaces. And while this isn’t top-shelf Radigue, it’s compelling nonetheless.

By Jason Bivins

Other Reviews of Eliane Radigue

Transamorem – Transmortem

Adnos I-III

Jetsun Mila



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