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Eliane Radigue - Geelriandre/Arthesis

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Artist: Eliane Radigue

Album: Geelriandre/Arthesis

Label: Senufo Editions

Review date: Mar. 22, 2012

When the music of Eliane Radigue is discussed, two aspects always come up: her practice of Tibetan Buddhism and the drone. While her spiritual interests are surely important for her on a personal level, and “drone” is a valid description of her long-form electronic compositions, there’s a problem here: The reduction of her work to these two aspects ultimately limits how we understand it. The interest in them actually distances us from her sound. Her Buddhism and her exploration of the drone get tossed out like exotic facts. They make for easy pegs to talk about her music, but they do nothing to tell us why we should be listening to her today — and listen we should.

These two pieces, both from the 1970s, were originally released on Giuseppe Ielasi’s Fringe Recordings in 2003. In his Paris Transatlantic review of the original issue, Dan Warburton makes a good case for why Radigue’s music is unique in the late 20th century canon of both electronic music and minimalism. She was the first, he suggests, to fully explore the capabilities of analog synthesizers to produce sustained, slowly shifting timbres — what these days we inevitably, and not always accurately, call a drone.

But Radigue’s music is anything but monolithic. It’s full of psychoacoustic activity and subtle gradations of color. Her compositions are like the sound of a bell being struck, its reverberations allowed to decay infinitely and captured in slow motion as complex webs of overtones interacting with your space. “Geelriandre,” here a live performance of Radigue’s ARP synthesizer and Gérard Fremy’s live prepared piano, evokes this sound almost literally. It not only sounds like the tolling of a gigantic bell; it feels like it. Turn it up loud and walk through your house or apartment. This music follows you, changes as you change rooms and go around corners.

Here we get to an essential point. If you’re listening to Radigue on headphones or computer speakers, you’re not really hearing her. This isn’t an argument for hi-fi or against downloads. It’s just stating an acoustic fact. Her work is immediate and physical. You’re meant to be in contact with it.

Listen to Arthesis on headphones and what you hear is this: a slow, vague rumble in the right channel and more active mid and high frequencies in the left. It stays basically the same for the duration. But put the same piece on a pair of loudspeakers and it is transformed. You start to notice a gradual, rising dynamic. The channel separation starts to produce pockets of audio hallucinations. By the end, the air is alive with beat frequencies, difference tones and rich timbral interaction.

And now we get to why Radigue matters. She doesn’t fit into our cloud-mind, playlist culture. You can’t listen to Arthesis on a bus or a subway. I’m no Luddite and I’m not getting nostalgic, but we shouldn’t confuse progress with development. Progress is just movement. When we gain one thing, we lose something else. Radigue represents what we lose with endlessly streaming playlists and ultimate mobility. Her work is long. Unhurried. Subtle. Accurately experiencing it, much less understanding it, requires concentration and a measured pace — two qualities our online life fails to promote.

I chose to not include a sound sample with this review. If you seek this music out, do so deliberately. Listen to it and it only. Don’t read something else. Don’t put it on a playlist. Its moral is simple: stop, listen, and above all, experience.

By Matthew Wuethrich

Other Reviews of Eliane Radigue

Transamorem – Transmortem

Adnos I-III

Jetsun Mila


Vice Versa / Triptych

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View all articles by Matthew Wuethrich

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