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Eliane Radigue - Adnos I-III

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Artist: Eliane Radigue

Album: Adnos I-III

Label: Table of the Elements

Review date: Oct. 23, 2002

You Should Listen Closely

There is a lot to say about listening. If you pay close enough attention to any sounds, you can hear a lot of things that you would probably ignore otherwise. That goes for rock music, birds chirping, people talking and anything else that makes noise. Different noises suggest different ways of listening, but deep listening can easily be applied to any particular set of sounds.

Table of the Elements has recently released Eliane Radigue’s Adnos I-III in a very handsomely packaged triple compact disc set. Radigue created these three pieces between 1973 and 1981 by meticulously mixing together sounds from an ARP synthesizer on tape. Each piece took over a year to complete, necessitating immense precision in live mixing and planning. Radigue studied under Pierre Henry and exhibits remarkable skill in her techniques. Despite the impressive methods employed here, however, the process by which the pieces were created is really only important to the extent that it succeeds in its effects. Radigue’s music shouldn’t be interpreted as some sort of academic exercise in minimalism, but rather as simply the kind of music that she is innately compelled to make. That distinction applies pretty generally to art, considering technique and form as tools separate from distinction. The Adnos cycle, though, would be equally compelling as a solo vocal piece or any other medium aside from Radigue’s format.

Each piece is a little over 70 minutes in length and is based around gradually changing drones, generally happening separately in three distinct frequency ranges. The highest and lowest of these are at each end of the audible spectrum. The high end resembles tape hiss, barely perceptible at first listen, but sort of abrasive after a few minutes. The opposite end is a gently throbbing continuous booming sound that rattles your whole body, but gives a rather motherly feeling of warmth. In general, the music subtly becomes a part of your environment in such a way that you forget what it’s like without it, and pressing the pause button makes you perceive the relative silence much differently than before.

Across the cycle, an increasingly complex rhythmic element emerges. This begins in Adnos I with the low pulsing sound of sine waves slightly out of phase with each other. In the second piece, this becomes more elaborate, and a structured cadence emerges. Adnos III features rapidly syncopated tones somewhere between ticking and chiming that imply a much quicker tempo than the other elements of the piece. Throughout all three pieces, the sounds are very active. There’s a feeling of stasis to Radigue’s music, in which rapid motion exists, but without any clear direction.

The Adnos cycle offers ample opportunities for expanding one’s listening dexterity and bounteous rewards for those who are willing to engage the work. Like most drone-based music (or really any sound), there a deceptive amount of stuff going on that one might miss at first. Because of its minimalist nature, the listener is forced to tune into finer aspects of the sounds and continuously discover more minute characteristics. Most of the tones that Radigue employs are what some would refer to as pure. In some sense, they’re machine-like and artificial since she uses rather artificial methods to achieve them. Radigue succeeds immensely, however, in bringing out their fundamental character, making the pieces seem natural if abstract, and more than anything else, comfortable.

I don’t mean that her music is what one would call difficult listening. All of the noises that Radigue employs are both profoundly beautiful and immensely powerful. It’s pretty difficult for me to have much perspective on the way in which these would be perceived by a casual listener, but I don’t imagine that anyone would be able to dismiss them as unlistenable or displeasing. Patience is the only difficult challenge that the Adnos cycle poses. Change is inevitably very important to any way of listening; sounds are nothing but vibrating air. In these pieces, however, any changes are extremely gradual, making any attempt to directly perceive them virtually impossible. This forces one’s attention toward sonic qualities at a specific moment rather than change over time.

In the liner notes, Rhys Chatham provides an essay that is so illuminating that it makes saying any additional things about Radigue’s work a forbidding endeavor. He explains that “adnos” is a play on Latin words that can be taken to mean “to go towards unity.” This is quite an appropriate description of the way in which the pieces present themselves as whole entities. Since the changes that occur are slow and smooth to practically imperceptible, the listener is forced to take in each piece as a whole and listen to it as one long sound. Thinking about the sound at a certain point, it’s hard to tell where you are or how you got there. This causes the entire piece to become unified without clearly understandable causal relations between its parts. In fact, there are no clearly distinct parts. Each piece is meant to be heard in its entirety, and any smaller part lacks the force of the whole.

Meditation is strongly connected to the Adnos pieces, as is Radigue’s later work. Interestingly, she was inexperienced in meditation when she composed Adnos I. She became interested in Tibetan Buddhism after the piece was identified by some listeners as “meditation music,” dedicating three years to its study between the composition of Adnos I and Adnos II. Likewise, listening to the pieces draws you into a sort of meditative situation without any attempt on your part to get there. You need only to allow yourself to be receptive and pay attention to the sounds to find yourself becoming calmer and more aware of your surroundings. That might seem a little bit too trite or suggestive of mysticism, but regardless of your attitude toward meditation, it accurately connotes the manner in which the music affects you as a listener. You can interpret the works in variety of different ways, but there's a sensual effect common to any kind of listening to Eliane Radigue's music. The music gently influences your thoughts, becoming a natural part of your environment. It’s a good place to be.

By Jason Voss

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