Eliane Radigue - In Memoriam-Ostinato / Danse des Dakinis
There is no artist, working in the contemporary field of experimental sound, that is more important than the French composer Éliane Radigue. She is a shining light, who, for more than half a century, has quietly blazed trails with a body of work that is as creatively visionary as it is sublime. Back in the 2010s, Alga Marghen launched a crucial archival series, dedicated to some of Radigue’s earliest and previously unavailable works, many predating her first LP, 1983's “Songs of Milarepa”, by more than a decade. Having already delivered four LP of this material, they return with their fifth and final instalment in the series, “In Memoriam-Ostinato / Danse des Dakinis”. Perhaps the most fascinating of the group, the first work was composed in 1969 in the period between the creation of two of her earlier works comprised within Alga Marghen’s initiative, “Jouet Electronique” and “Opus 17”, while the second draws on material recorded during the 1960s and then further intervened with, “Danse des Dakinis” was conceived and created in 1998 by Radigue as a self-portrait in sound. Absolutely essential on every count, we couldn’t think of a better place for this series to end, further illuminating the remarkable beginnings of one of our greatest living composers in truly eye watering ways.
Born in 1932, Éliane Radigue began her musical endeavours in Paris during the late 1950s and early '60s, working under Pierre Schaffer and Pierre Henry, before quickly outstepping her mentors. Initially working predominantly in tape, during the early 1970s she made the radical switch to modular synthesis, beginning a decades long exploration of the ARP 2500 that drew on her practice as a Buddhist and pushed the notions of musicality endlessly forward, taking the entire landscape of experimental sound with her through a series of sonic mediations that bound life and art.
During the early 2000s, Radigue set aside her synth, embarking upon a hiatus from music, before taking the unexpected step of beginning to compose works with and for acoustic instrumentalists. By the the early 2010s, this new phase in her career had begun to emerge as the sprawling work, “Occam Ocean” series, arguably bringing her more acclaim and adoration than any other point in her long career. Fittingly, it was during roughly this same moment, beginning with “Jouet electronique”, that Alga Marghen embarked upon their archival series dedicated to Radigue’s earliest and previously unavailable works, offering a unprecedented and much needed sense of dimension to the breadth of her career. Followed in rapid succession by “Feedback Works”, “Vice-Versa, etc…”, and “Opus 17” - each mining the period when the composer worked predominantly with magnetic tape - it’s been nearly a decade since the last LP appeared, making the emergence of their final instalment in the series. “In Memoriam-Ostinato / Danse des Dakinis”, that much more sweet.
Comprising two free standing works, the first, “In Memoriam-Ostinato”, foreshadows the pacing that would soon come to define Radigue’s unique approach to composing sound. Measured and slow, it is an immersion into an extending state of contemplation, manifested in organizations of sound; a game of mirroring symbols that bend and elongate time, inviting the ear to get lost. As Radigue recounts: “This piece was commissioned for a Happening, Mémorial. It was a sort of secular procession to the castle of Verderonne, a beautiful place. The pools bordering the edifice were lit, and everyone was dressed or draped in mauve. It terminated in one of the grand salons of the castle where I played “In Memoriam-Ostinato”.”
While considerably more concise than many of the durational works through which Radigue would come to make her name, the 23 minutes that make up “In Memoriam-Ostinato” are not encompassing or lacking in depth. Where it differs is within the presence of slighter darker temperament and mood. Across the work’s length, low rumbles of textural noise form a bedrock - feeling a bit like the death knell of dying electronics - into which strange, warbling tones of feedback pulse and dance with a palpable sense of tension. Like so much Radigue’s work over the years to come, “In Memoriam-Ostinato” actively obscures a consciousness of the artist’s hand. It's so elegant and risk laden, that were it encountered by chance, without context, it might be perceived as the generative form of an abandoned radio station within an alien landscape.
Rounding out the collection and not to be confused with the third part of “Adnos III”, which bears the same name, “Danse des Dakinis” is quite possibly the only work of its kind in Radigue’s remarkable body of work. Drawing on a wealth of tapes she created during the 1960s, the work was created in 1998 as a kind of self-portrait in sound; a kaleidoscopic vision of Radigue's sensibility for sound, a memoir, and a hall of mirrors prismatically reflecting the multiples sides of self. The piece, because of the many phases in her career from which it draws, is a fascinating hybrid that uses field-recordings from the beginning of the 1960s, made on the coasts of the Mediterranean Sea and capturing the sound of a creek recorded at Mills College campus, feedback elements from 1969, as well as later interventions on her ARP 2500 synthesizer.
Standing outside her larger body of composition, while intrinsically bound to it, “Danse des Dakinis” nods toward the dakini, a female deity in Vajrayana Buddhism or a female demon in Hinduism, establishing a curious bond between wrathful female forms and the elements of nature which double, in Buddhism - a central force in Radigue’s life and work - as the absence of ego or mental obstacles, where nature itself is revealed. Here, once again, we encounter the composer in a darker meditative state, weaving the sounds of nature into those of her Arp and feedback to create a complex internal world that blurs the lines between abstraction and raw emotion, electronics and organic sounds.
It’s hard to not feel a little bitter sweet about the long overdue emergence of Éliane Radigue’s “In Memoriam-Ostinato / Danse des Dakinis”. On one hand, it’s a truly incredible and deeply illuminating body of work. On the other, it signals the end of Alga Marghen’s decade long immersion into the composers crucial, previously unreleased body of feedback works from the 1960s. Still, we couldn’t think of a better way to end than here. It’s one of the most intriguing and engaging of the group. Absolutely fantastic from the first to the last.