Behind the Ears: Eliane Radigue
Eliane Radigue in 1955 (photo: Arman)
Behind The Ears: Eliane Radigue
by John Kieffer
These days we are increasingly used to having all kinds of art, music and theatre described as immersive. Too often though, immersion just means “a lot going on” or being “surrounded by something”. It is still very rare however to come across music that is truly transformative – something that changes you in the manner of James Turrell’s extraordinary “behind the eyes” lightworks such as Bindu Shards at the Gagosian last year. Eliane Radigue’s music is of course not literally the aural equivalent of artists like Turrell but if you surrender to her drone based minimalism you go to somewhere that is certainly ‘no place’ and almost ‘no mind.' Radigue’s music is subtle. Like Turrell’s art, it does not overwhelm you with complexity but instead finds its power in purity and craft.
Since the 1960s Eliane Radigue (born Paris, 1932) has created a powerful and individual body of work. She studied with electronic music pioneers Pierre Henry and Pierre Schaeffer and has been likened to American minimalists Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Steve Reich and Philip Glass, but her music has taken a singular and solitary path, unfettered by associations with particular schools and trends and strongly informed by the Tibetan Buddhism that she discovered in the 1970s.
She is now celebrated within electronic music circles as a true innovator, pioneer and musical visionary. Yet her music communicates a sublime spiritual power that can touch people far beyond those who are currently acquainted with her work. Emmanuel Holterbach, Eliane Radigue’s assistant and expert on her work, has described the experience of listening to her music:
“There is neither melodic movement or meter in Eliane Radigue's music. But paradoxically, if listeners abandon themselves to listening, they will discover in apparently static sounds beautiful polyrhythmic structures and beat games, in addition to hypnotic iridescences in the arabesques of the harmonics. These are inherent phenomena in the interactions between the ongoing sounds. A celestial dance of frequencies is played for us to witness.
“During each period of her work, Eliane Radigue has offered sumptuous works created with minimal apparatus, revealing extraordinary interior landscapes: celestial harvests, shimmering light through crystalline waterfalls, slow and heavy waves in oceans of sand, blood rivers, titanic organic mechanics, multitudes of comets in infinite skies, tectonic roarings, singings of atmospheric stratums... To suggest so much with so little is the mark of an infinitely breathing poetic lyricism, this is an extraordinary characteristic of Eliane Radigue's music.”
John Kieffer is creative director of Sound and Music, producers of the series Triptych: The Music of Eliane Radigue, which is at various London venues 12 – 26 June 2011. For more information, see www.soundandmusic.org/projects/triptych-music-eliane-radigue.