Day 16

Conversations with Éliane Radigue

Overview digital gestures

Time is of no importance
Eliane Radigue

Time is of no importance. All that counts is the duration necessary for a seamless development. My music evolves organically. It’s like a plant. We never see a plant move, but it is growing continually. Like plants, immobile but always growing, my music is never stable. It is ever changing. But the changes are so slight that they are almost imperceptible, and only become apparent after the fact. This music, as I conceive of it, cannot contain any breaks. So the structure is very simple, based on the use of fades—fade in, fade out, and crossfade. Incidentally, when I used to do these fades by hand, using tape recorders, the result seemed far subtler than the digital fades that are used today, which to me seem too mechanical.

I learnt to work with tape and tape recorders alongside Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry, leaving serialism behind to instead immerse myself in the universe of sounds. With Pierre Henry in particular, I learnt to work with feedback and reinjection. What I’ve retained from that apprenticeship is the concentration and the slowness that is necessary for a subtle manipulation of potentiometers and microphones. With feedback, you have to walk this invisible line, this slight movement of the microphone (too close and everything blows up, too far and it dies out). With the right distance, the right gesture, I was able to generate sustained, gently vibrating and undulating sounds. Similarly, I used feedback by reinjection, moving the playback or recording potentiometer ever so slightly to produce a tiny variation, an imperceptible shift. I intervened very little. I just let the sound evolve, so as to learn how to listen and to try and find out how it spoke to me. Once I hadheard it, I could, in some sense, open up a conversation with it. Trying to listen to it and to respect it for itself.

This contemplative listening relationship to sound is something I’ve always cultivated. I remember how, when I lived near Nice airport, throughout the day I used to listen to the few planes that flew out of there, trying to make out the variations in their rumbling. The ear has the ability to navigate within a sound mass and, within the continuum of this rumbling, I looked for a music. The sonic landscapes of the Nice region were inexhaustible. One of my first works, Elemental, was composed from recordings I made with a little Stellavox tape recorder. I had recorded sounds of the sea, the wind, rain, landslides. And it was in Pierre Henry’s studio that I used these elements to compose the first Elemental.

Later I discovered electronic sounds and synthesizers, but I have always continued to apply the techniques learnt in musique concrète studios. So my music develops out of two primordial elements: a contemplative, deep, and extremely attentive listening, and a methodology inherited from my long hours working in the studio with magnetic tape and tape recorders. Discovering the techniques of montage, mixing, and transformation, I developed an instrumentation that suited my music, to which the synthesizer would later be added. Because there was a certain music that I wanted to hear, and I discovered its fundamental principles when I came across these electronic materials that I found so fascinating.

If my music unfolds with a certain slowness, it is for three reasons. Firstly, I have always preferred the slow movements in classical music. Often, when I am listening to a record, I begin directly with the second movement and, once it is finished, rush to take off the record before the scherzobegins. The second reason is that behind each of my pieces there is a story, a reference, an experience to which the work is related. These are either themes I want to address and which need time to unfold, or impressions I have felt, experiences I have lived through, and which I evoke with my music. These stories, these states, have their own duration, and must be unfolded with in that same duration. The third and final reason relates to something I consider fundamental to my work: the exploration of intermediate states. Everything is an interval, we are always in-between. And in this interval, between two states, there is a continual expression of invisible variations, imperceptible transitions. All in-betweens are fundamental—as illustrated, for example, by the six intermediate states of the Bardo Thödol, the Tibetan Book of the Dead. In my music, intermediate spaces are like a shoreline transformed by progressive, slow, and continuous changes that come in waves, like the tide.

My work in electronic composition develops slowly—the first steps, anyway. I never begin from nowhere; I have “the story” and the structure in mind. Then I start to search, making sounds designed for this or that part, in a haphazard way. I take notes, but then I leave it alone for a month or two. Then I listen again to all of the sounds I have collected, eliminate some of them, look at possible ways of putting them together, and I remake new sounds that are in line with those I already have. Then comes the structuring, which I do with the help of a drawn score. Finally it’s time for mixing, which is done in one pass, something that calls for extremely close attention, since, if something goes wrong in the fifty-second minute, for example, the whole thing will have to be done again from the beginning.

This extremely close attention, which begins with my own listening and continues in my gestures, on the magnetic tape, is then transmitted through the diffusion of the piece and the listening of the auditor. There is a kind of gradual transfer of energy that permeates, one by one, every one of the steps that produce the musical experience. But every musical experience is always more than musical. It is through music that I encountered Buddhism, but I had always been drawn to spirituality. I see music and spirituality as two rails that carry the same vehicle but remain distinct from one another, and rarely come together (the exception being the Songs of Milarepa and Jetsun Mila). Both of them however are related to a meditative experience and a progressive and solitary work. In the end, my music is like a mirror that reflects one’s inner state and resonates with it. It is in this way that it can offer, to whoever wants to listen, a singular experience of duration.

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