For a composer at the age of 90, there is nothing but time

Éliane Radigue lives and works in a second-floor apartment in the Montparnasse area of ​​Paris. A weeping fig tree towered over her head; Across the loft-like room are three large windows decorated with indoor plants. The windows face a school across the street, she wrote in a recent email, “set its rhythm by day, week and month.”

She’s lived there for the past 50 years, persistently writing a lot of slow, very minimal, mostly electronic music. The work of Radigue, who turned 90 on January 24, often seems static on first hearing. Her most famous work, the Buddhist-inspired “Trilogie de la Mort,” lasts three hours and seems vast and empty. However, zoom in on the musical material and you’ll see that each line is inching in a deliberate way.

“Time, silence, and space are key elements of my music,” she wrote in an interview conducted over a series of emails. “Space shakes, like a light breath, creating slight vibrations of silence, which become sound.”

She added that “this natural way of doing things – the slowness – of course takes a long time” and she works “from time to time.”

Her music, though, is less perceptible inside than outside time. In her commitment to letting her ideas grow organically, she often makes you forget that time exists.

Radigue was born in Paris in 1932. She studied piano at an early age and remembers attending classical concerts on Saturday afternoons. But although the spirit of slow symphonic movements lingers in her work, rarely does such style emerge unambiguously; the opening of “Opus 17,In it she gradually deconstructs a phrase of Chopin, which is a foreign language. Most of her others nod to the standard history of classical music – as in “Kyema,” from “Trilogie,” and half an hour later. “L’Ile Re-Sonante” – appeared faintly, like a stranger on the street, who lost his scream in the wind.

More than the music, it was the noise that spoke to the Radigue. In the mid-1950s, she lived with her young family next to an airport in Nice. It was while listening to airplanes fly overhead that she first heard Pierre Schaeffer’s radio program “Étude aux Chemins de Fer”, a noise fusion based on recordings of trains created the first component of Schaeffer’s “Cinq Études de Bruits” film. This is one of the earliest examples of musique concrète, using recorded sounds as the base material, crafting them electronically.

It was a defining moment for Radigue. “Of course it’s music,” she said in 2019. “Anything can become music. It depends on how we listen to it”.

Radigue contacted Schaeffer, eventually securing a position at the Studio d’Essai in Paris, which he established as a center for the Resistance during the Second World War and which after the conflict became a sort of music institute. experiment. There she cut and assembled the magnetic tape being used by Schaeffer and another composer, Pierre Henry. It was hard work, insignificant financial and artistic recognition, and male predominance.

“It was the road everywhere at the time,” she said in the interview. “I didn’t pay attention to that. No time to waste there. I just ignored it and made my way anyway”.

However, she added, “it was interesting to discover a different way in America.” Radigue first came to the United States in 1964, to stay permanently with her husband at the time, Arman, a famous painter. (Their son is named after Arman’s best friend, the artist Yves Klein.) She returned to America in the early 1970s, finding herself living with a bohemian crowd.

“I got to know all the richness of American artists of this period, both from Pop Art and from musicians,” she said. “James Tenney was a close friend and introduced me to musicians of this period” – including John Cage, Philip Glass, Steve Reich, David Tudor and Laurie Spiegel. She took part in the age-old SoHo loft performances.

It was in America that Radigue began experimenting with synthesizers, leaving behind Schaeffer and Henry, who disapproved of the musical path their assistant was taking. Instead of manipulating recorded audio, Radigue was more intrigued by electronic feedback – a precarious and time-consuming process to grasp, especially as she focused on controlling small changes. Radigue worked with various synthesizers, including the Moog and Buchla 100, before moving on to build the ARP 2500, the modular device that would define her sound for the next 30 years.

Radigue even named her ARP: Jules. “The thing that moved me the most was ‘his voice,’” she said in the interview. “It is very rich and expressive. Even so, when we disagree…”

For Jules, it was a compelling ease of use, with sliding matrix switches enhancing her musical sensibility, something she discovered further upon returning to Paris, following her divorce from Arman in in 1967. “Psi 847” and “Transamorem – Transmortem,” both of which premiered in art galleries, feature morphological shifts and intermittent rhythmic events that enhance the already immersive atmosphere.

In the 1970s, she pursued Tibetan Buddhism, giving up music entirely for three years. When she returned to writing, the incorporation of Buddhist ideas – as in “Song of Milarepa” and the sprawling “Trilogie”, influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead – only added to the simple structure. , seamlessly for her work. “Kyema,” subtitled “Intermediate Countries,” is particularly evocative; following the Book of the Dead’s continuously existential journey, it avoids the end, meandering slowly and perpetuated by sharp pains, overtone-like blurs, and grainy white noise.

It was only when Radigue was in her 60s that she began to gain recognition in France, and even later when she made a living with her music. An unforeseen turn of events occurred in 2001. For many years, Radigue’s only collaborator was her cat. Then, with some reluctance, she accepted her first sound commission – “Elemental II,” to musician Kasper T. Toeplitz – and began collaborating more often with performers, including including the release of a quartet of Lappites notebooks. Over the past 20 years, the collaboration has resulted in new works constantly appearing; a decade ago, a composition for solo harp, “Occam I”, initiated a huge cycle of “Occam” compositions.

The massive collection “Occam” brings a new philosophy to the forefront of her work, rooted in Occam’s razor, which states that “entities should not be unnecessarily multiplied.” That parsimony principle is a helpful way to understand how this defiantly slow, recent music comes together: Instead of the piece depicting a distillation process, it now begins with material already amazingly filtered.

For listeners, the newer work is still made of the same building blocks as her music has had for decades: slow-motion fundamentals, shimmering harmonics, microtones and long ranges of material. The only real change is that there are now several more people sharing the process of conceiving and conceiving.

In the interview, she said that her later flourishing career is dying out. “It is difficult now,” she wrote. “I am quite old, have some health problems, and I have to reduce my activities.”

But any slowdown in her output can’t detract from the epitome of committed art: a composer who stumbled across a sound and spent a lifetime nurturing it. For a composer at the age of 90, there is nothing but time

Fry Electronics Team

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