Eliane Radigue: The sound of thoughts

One of my plans this year (promises made to myself over a bottle of wine at the start of the year) is to move deeply into the work of Eliane Radigue with the intention of transforming my relationship to sound. I had an exciting year of sound and music discovery last year, but it was slip-shod, a wild trekking through un known territory, every new encounter leaving me wide-eyed and begging for more. Dotted all over this landscape is small burning bushes of sound, preaching their conversion to me as I feasted on milk and wild honey. It’s more than a year on now, and I feel compelled to pause and focus on each soundscape, not as it is revealed, but by exercising my ability to choose (I won’t call it a right – in a democracy that is a given – it is more a question of exercising that ‘right’) and dwell on certain pockets as they open themselves up to me.

One of these pockets is the incredible work of Eliane Radigue.

There are things I need. Access to her music for a start, plus some information about how to listen in the best environment. (I’m torn at the moment between going completely digi or retaining a connection with the object) I have to work out what sort of sound system I need to take maximum advantage of the listening experience I hope to create for myself. Is an i pod good enough? It might be these days. Do I need a dark room?  Lay down, or sit up? I do know this listening experience is an almost meditative space.  These are the kinds of explorations I’ll make prior to starting my journey through her work.

Eliane Radigue was born in Paris in 1932. She lived in Nice with the artist Arman where they raised their three children together. BY 1967, she was ready to focus on the art, so she moved back to Paris in her early thirties. Here she studied piano and began composing. One day she heard  a broadcast by the founder of musique concrète Pierre Schaeffer. She met him shortly thereafter in the early 50s and became his student while working periodically during visits to Paris at the Studio d’Essai. During the early 1960s, she was assistant to Pierre Henry, during which time she created some of the sounds which appeared in his work. As her work gained maturity, Schaeffer and Henry believed her use of microphone feedback and long tape loops was moving away from their ideals, but her singular practice was still related to their methods.

A Portrait of Eliane Radigue (2009) from Maxime Guitton on Vimeo.

Around 1970, she created her first synthesizer-based music at NYU at a studio she shared with Laurie Spiegel on a Buchla synthesizer installed by Morton Subotnick. Her goal by that point was to create a slow, purposeful “unfolding” of sound, which she felt to be closer to the minimal composers of New York at the time than to the French musique concrète composers who had been her previous allies. After presenting the first of her Adnos in 1974 at Mills College at the invitation of Robert Ashley, a group of visiting French music students suggested that her music was deeply related to meditation and that she should look into Tibetan Buddhism, two things that she had very little familiarity with.

Buchla synthesizer

Upon investigation of Tibetan Buddhism, she quickly converted and spent the next three years devoted to its practice under her guru Pawo Rinpoche, who subsequently sent her back to her musical work. She returned to composition, picking up where she left off, using the same methods and working toward the same goals as before, and finished Adnos II in 1979 andAdnos III in 1980. Then came the series of works dedicated to Milarepa, a great Tibetan yogi, known for his Thousand songs representing the basis of his teaching. First she composed the Songs of Milarepa, followed by Jetsun Mila an evocation of the life of this great master; the creation of these works was sponsored by the French government.

At the end of the 80s, beginning of the 90s, she devotes herself to a singular three-hour work, perhaps her masterpiece, the Trilogie de la Mort, of which the first part kyema Intermediate states follows the path of the continuum of the six states of conscience. The work is influenced by the Tibetan Book of the Dead Bardo Thodol and her meditation practice as by the death of Pawo Rinpoche and her son Yves Arman. The first third of the Trilogie, “Kyema”, was her first release recording, issued by Phill Niblock’s XI label.

Kyema from likvida vivo on Vimeo.


In 2000, she made in Paris her last electronic work l’Ile Re-sonante for which she received in 2006 the Golden Nica Award at the festival Ars Electronica in Linz.

In 2001 upon request from the double bass and electronic composer Kasper T. Toeplitz, she makes her first instrumental work Elemental II, a work taken up again with the laptopimprovisation group The Lappetites she joined. She participated in their first album “Before the Libretto” on the Quecksilber label in 2005.

Since 2004 she dedicated herself to works for purely acoustical instrument. First with the American cello player Charles Curtis, the first part of the work Naldjorlak was created in December 2005 in New York and later played in 25 concerts across the U.S. and in Europe. The second part of Naldjorlak for the two basset-horn players Carole Robinson and Bruno Martinez, was created in September 2007 at the Aarau Festival (Switzerland). The three musician have completed with Eliane Radigue the last part of Naldjorlak and presented the complete work “Naldjorlak I,II,III” on January 24, 2009 in Bordeaux.

Last year we were lucky enough to receive a new recording of Transamorem-Transmortem which is one of the first recordings on my list to enjoy. Expect reviews and commentary as I work through this wonderful journey this year.