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Eliane Radigue - Transamorem – Transmortem

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Artist: Eliane Radigue

Album: Transamorem – Transmortem

Label: Important

Review date: Aug. 15, 2011

There’s an ancient story, told by pilgrims on the way to the shrine at Santiago, involving a monk who prays to be shown what Heaven is like. He leaves his monastery for a walk and is entranced by the song of a bird. When he emerges from his dream-state, his sense of wonder is tempered by the fact that he can’t find his monastery — 300 years have passed.

Eliane Radigue’s work has often brought this story to mind, especially this 1973 composition. As with many of her early works, it was originally an installation, meant to be heard on four strategically placed loudspeakers. While the original experience must have been mind-bending, this two-channel transfer certainly does the music justice.

As with all of Radigue’s music, Transamorem – Transmortem thrives on the contradictions connecting illusion and fact, or simplicity and complexity. Over the work’s 67 minutes, we are presented with a barely changing droning sonic complex, created on the Arp 2500 that Radigue would use for many years. The sonority fades in and fades back out over an hour later. At certain moments, pitches in the complex are alternately thrust forward in the mix — I’ll call them the alto and baritone occurrences. The latter recurs throughout the piece, buttressing the very high frequency that seems to anchor everything.

So much for nuts and bolts, which ultimately add up to nothing in the face of the ineffable listening experience. All sense of cause and effect blur as time is erased. At lower volumes, the drone takes on the appearance of a major chord, but when the volume is turned up, it fills the listening space, stretching it to the breaking point. The highest frequencies shimmer, lower ones throb with pulses they may not really contain. The slightest movement of my head changed the entire focus of what I heard, which often happens in the music we’ll clumsily call EAI. Unlike, say, the early works of La Monte Young, Radigue’s soundworld takes on a sense of multi-directionality, revealing aspects of itself only after vast spaces of time slide by. Is that clicking in the left channel, present through the entire composition, really the only percussive produced by the synthesizer, as seems to be the case in the long slow fade to black?

Transamorem – Transmortem is a step along Radigue’s long journey and a resting place. The sense of movement and stasis that remain when the music is over are as extraordinary as the sound itself. Like the epic Visions of Cody for Kerouac, it prefigures, in sound and scope, Radigue’s Buddhist meditations of the 1980s. Important Records justifies its name by restoring this missing chapter of Radigue’s story.

By Marc Medwin

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