The Night Thread of Éliane Radigue

Éliane Radigue is a French composer. Born in 1932, she began composing electronic compositions in the 1950s after being exposed to Pierre Schaeffer. Initially composing for tape feedback, she eventually moved on to synthesizer based compositions in the 1970s. Radigue eventually found inspiration in Buddhism, and many of her compositions evoke specific Buddhist gurus or philosophies. Since about the turn of the century, Radigue has mostly focused on acoustic pieces, though they maintain the typical droning techniques of her electronic work.

For a long time it was difficult to get a hold of Radigue’s work. Indeed, much of her work stretches to or beyond an hour, so for a while she was limited by the musical format. Eventually her music began being released when CDs become more prevalent. In 2018 French label INA-GRM released a 14 CD set entitled Œuvres Électroniques. This was comprised of most, but not all, of her electronic work. Important Records has also been reissuing much of her work. Regarding reissuing things, I liked this anecdote from Emmanuel Holterbach on INA-GRM’s bandcamp page for Feedback works 1969-1970

When I visited her in her Paris apartment for the first time, what made an impression on me were the immense shelves taking up the entire entryway, filled from floor to ceiling with tapes. All those sounds… the whole life story of an electronic composer. Immediately I became overcome with curiosity as to the beauties hidden within those boxes, no way not to find treasures within. I did not know anything as yet.

Éliane lives in an eternal present, one could almost say. I had never met someone who at her age was not busy digging around in their past. She, on the other hand, simply considered that she always had “her whole life in front of her”.

Éliane, always inhabited by music, usually lives with a new project in mind. Even if not at all stingy in responding to questions about her rich past, one would not say that she tried to evoque times gone by.

I quickly proposed to convert her magnetic tapes to digital. Not only to create an archive but also and especially to search out all the details, the secrets of this unique body of work. For years all I got were polite but firm refusals. She wanted to convince me that there was nothing but never-ending dust, and babbling, risky if not primitive… Things only changed suddenly after a return from Chicago in 2002 for the release of “L’Île re-sonante”. Delighted with the experience, she described the evening of the concert. She had been overwhelmed by the presence of very young people who came up for a signature on the boxset of “Adnos” trilogy (realised between 1974 and 1982 and published in 2002 by Table of the Elements. This time when I said that these works of the past were in effect full of passion and so it might be the time to put in order the archive, she said laconically, but with enthusiasm: “Oh, alright! But you do it, you know where everything is”.

Radigue’s masterpiece, as far as I’m concerned, is her Trilogie de la Mort, a three hour piece inspired by the Tibetan book of the dead. You can listen to it here for one fourth of the the Night Thread