Éliane Radigue (b. 1932) is a pioneering French composer of undulating continuous music marked by patient, virtually imperceptible transformations that purposively unfold to reveal the intangible, radiant contents of minimal sound—its partials, harmonics, subharmonics and inherent distortions. As a student and assistant to musique concrète pioneers Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry in the ‘50s and ‘60s, Radigue mastered tape splicing techniques, but preferred the creation of fluid, delicately balanced feedback works to the spasmodic dissonance of her teachers’ music.
Finding peers among minimalist composers in America, Radigue began working with synthesis in 1970, eventually discovering the ARP 2500 synthesizer, which she would use exclusively for her celebrated electronic works to come. With remarkable restraint, Radigue spent years on each piece, painstakingly assembling series of subtle, pulsating ARP recordings to be later mixed meticulously into hourlong suites of precise, perpetual mutation, including masterpieces Trilogie de la mort and Adnos I-III.
In 2001, Radigue adapted an early feedback work to live performance on electric bass, Elemental II, and in 2004, with the encouragement of ongoing collaborator Charles Curtis, she permanently abandoned electronics for acoustic composition, beginning with Naldjorlak for solo cello, composed for Curtis. As within each individual work, Radigue has maintained an obstinate focus throughout the flow of her career, her dedication to the materiality of sound earning her numerous accolades and ensuring her place as one of the most important composers of our time.
For the last 10 years Éliane Radigue has created music exclusively in collaboration with performers, using solely oral and aural transmission. Focusing on the details of this ‘scoreless’ working method, Radigue’s Occam Ocean (2011–) is in fact a series of 22 infinitely combinable solos and over 20 chamber pieces. Through interviews with the performers and Radigue, a composite understanding of their collaboration is reached, focusing on the emergent ideas of virtuosity, memory, images, scores, hospitality and non-hierarchy.
“It all began with an image seen so long ago at the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles, the image of a long chart showing known wavelengths. It was clear that in addition to the wavelength from the earth to the sun, there were long waves stretching between other planets, solar systems and galaxies. Our immersion in this wave-filled universe makes our heads spin. In the same way, our bodies are also driven by undulations and multiple rhythms. It is just as dizzying to move toward the minute: X-rays, gamma rays and other “nanos.”
In these unfathomable dimensions, there is also that very tiny regionn between 50 and 60 Hertz, and for some species up to 12,000 Hz or more, where these vibrations become sounds.
Regardless of what is being used, the essential goal is to produce and bring out the partials, the overtones, the harmonics and sub harmonics, these vibrations in the air, not only those of the string or the breath, but the intangible contents of sound. An instrument vibrating beyond the fundamental(s) generates an extraordinary richness that turns into fascination. This calls for extreme simplicity, i.e. sounds maintained between piano and mezzo forte dynamic levels, beyond which the fundamental again becomes predominant. Hence the famous law from Occam’s Razor, never overdo anything, concentrate instead on breath control, or a gentle stroke, that caress of a key or a string that is sufficient to develop and enrich this infinite universe.”