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RADIGUE, ELIANE - Feedback Works 1969-1970

Format: LP
Label & Cat.Number: Alga Marghen plana-R alga 40
Release Year: 2022
Note: re-press of the LP with three tape-pieces / sound installations from 1969-1970 using processed feedback sounds, transferred to digital by LIONEL MARCHETTI ; no gatefold, but comes with booklet... "It is moreover continually amazing that she could build such formidably organic sonic edifices with the primitive machines which were hers: three tape recorders, a mixing board, an amplifier, two loudspeakers and a microphone." [Emmanuel Holterbach]
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Feedback Works 1969-1970

However mesmerizing they may be, the works of Éliane Radigue which could be found on record were quite rare when I met her in 1998: “Trilogie de la Mort”, “Biogenesis”, impressive pieces composed on the ARP 2500 synthesizer between 1970 and 1990. There was also the very rare double 7" “Σ=a=b=a+b”, edited by the author and then brought out by the Yvon Lambert Gallery in 1969, which seemed to unveil a turbulent side of the composer’s youth. This work was intended to be presented as a sonic environment and had been composed with nothing but feedback effects on magnetic tape… a relatively crude piece compared with those for synthesizer, difficult for me to relate to. I hastily concluded that Éliane had dabbled with feedback for its hot-tempered quality, a bit like her colleagues Robert Ashley or Alvin Lucier, before passing on to something calmer (in her case, the rounded and peaceable harmonics of the synthesizer)… my mistake. “Σ=a=b=a+b” was but a small part of the group of works based on feedback, just one of the more rough nuances from that so-rich period.

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”.

The big job could begin; I was enchanted and am still. I expected to find other works on the rough side, like “Σ=a=b=a+b”, but with surprise quite another thing came forth.
The digital versions were all done in Lyon, at Lionel Marchetti’s. His interest in and knowledge of Éliane’s music, along with his detailed work, made for a most enjoyable activity. I recall the silence in the studio when we uncovered works surely never listened to after their first public performance, not to say ever presented... Sounds older than I was, for sure. Certain of these works had something of the traumatic about them: my goodness, she made these magnificent sounds with only three pieces of string!

Thus were the works of the feedback period of Éliane Radigue revealed, as we gradually got them digitized, extending over five years approximately: “Omnht” with its broad tectonic vibrations, the celestial voices of “Usral”, the dense silences of “Jouet électronique”, “Stress Osaka” massive chant, the horizon moving in “Vice-versa, etc.”, the magnetic bewitchments of “Opus 17”… each one brought its load of surprises and burst a well filled time bubble. So did we rewind the thread of her biography, discovering obvious connections even in the texture of the sounds themselves, which joined that period to the synthesizer one.

There is nothing anecdotal in the feedback period of Éliane Radigue. A good dozen pieces were composed between 1967 and 1970 in which most of the characteristic originality of her works had their beginnings. It is moreover continually amazing that she could build such formidably organic sonic edifices with the primitive machines which were hers: three tape recorders, a mixing board, an amplifier, two loudspeakers and a microphone. A home studio certainly primitive, but there were not any home studios to speak of in the sixties, the cost of materials being too high. To compose electronic music, or “concrete” or “experimental” (what distinctions!) you had to have access to an institutional studio (At the time usually located in the large radio studios, or certain universities). Indeed, a large part of Éliane’s possessions came from Pierre Henry.

She met him at the “Studio d'Essai” of the R.T.F. in the middle of the 50s, after having met Pierre Schaeffer almost by chance (if such a chance does exist) who invited her to learn the techniques of musique concrète. In fact, from 1955 to 1957 she learned all about these techniques there, “in the shadow of the masters” she says. Éliane emphasizes that she could be there as a “quiet little mouse”, because she cast no shadow on the masters of the place. She learned, as she says, that she was only there as a student. During the 50s no avant-garde musician could imagine a woman seriously competing with them… Jokes erupted: “At least when Éliane comes to the studio it smells good!” etc. Nevertheless Pierre Henry liked one of Éliane’s montages and wanted to use it in a piece he was working on, “L'Occident est Bleu” (1957). From 1957 to 1967 she no longer had access to a studio. During these ten years she will be travelling, taking care of her family, and composing a few graphic scores which will never be published, or even played: “Asymptote Versatile” in 1960, or yet “Chess Game” (based on a chess match between Marcel Duchamp and her then husband, Arman). She was biding her time.

She was to once again assist Pierre Henry from 1967 to 1969, and there she made her first tape compositions. During the last stage of mixing “L'Apocalypse de Jean”, in 1968, Pierre Henry brought to her some of the materials which would become her studio, so that she could continue working on some parts of the “Apocalypse” he asked her to work on, while he continued working at Studio Apsome. These things remained in Éliane’s house and she bought what was lacking to work autonomously: one more tape recorder, a microphone, and then, in 1971, the ARP 2500 synthesizer. Even if these first compositions date from the end of the 60s it seems evident the entire creative process in Éliane Radigue’s work had begun in the Studio d’Essai in 1955.

What I always find striking when I listen to the first piece “Jouet électronique” (realized in 1967 at the Apsome Studio and published in 2010 by Alga Marghen) is the maturity and expressive force in this short composition. There is already a tension and poetry proper to her own. Similarly, “Jouet électronique” seems to contain the germ of all which is to come. Or at least it opens all the paths which she will follow indefatigably. It is as if her musical work in some way contained a martial arts discipline on which she meditated for 10 years before striking the first blow, with an impressive precision… Right away her music separates from the explorations of musique concrète, from any academism, or whatever style then in vogue. Her adventure is intuitively going towards flux, towards contemplative stasis. A music of continuous sounds, of apparently simple structures, which permits the revelations and expansion of rich acoustic phenomena. One could say that in one sense it is the very texture of the sounds which leads the form in her compositions. At the same time this approach favors an intense sensuality in the listening. The fluidity of form in Éliane Radigue’s music has more to do with certain world music traditions, composed of drones, resonances, pulsations (although I cannot be sure that this was really the inspiration). A music in which time is suspended, but not stopped, rather unfolding with an intoxicating slowness, engendering fascination rather than boredom.

Between 1969 and 1970 Éliane Radigue gave up measured durations and composed works which flirted with eternity: “Usral” (1969), “Labyrinthe Sonore” (1970). and “Omnht” (1970). They are generally made of several tape loops of clearly different duration read simultaneously. In this arrangement, simple and ingenious (close to the usage of Steve Reich in his youthful pieces), the fixed sounds go slowly out of synch, in a play of perpetual mutation. From this appears a sonic landscape whose temporality, as well as its materiality, could be described by these verses by Paul Verlaine:
“…who, each time, is never quite the same, nor completely another…”

The terms “Sound Art” and “Sound Installation” are in vogue at this moment. There was nothing like it at the time. A way of describing this new approach had to be developed. So she presented her works under the description “Propos Sonores” (Sonic propositions) or sometimes “Music without End”. These works were unveiled to the public both in the places consecrated to music as well as museums and galleries (Yvon Lambert, Lara Vincy, etc.). Nothing surprising in the fact that these “Music without End” at times, like a halo of the infinite, accompanied works of such visual artists as Marc Halpern or Tania Mouraud. For all that, without minimizing the interest of these collaborations, it seems important to add that the sounds she used have in themselves a completely “plastic” quality.

This is the context in which Éliane composed “Omnht” in 1970 for one of the architectonic spaces of the visual artist Tania Mouraud, “One More Night”, presented at the Gallery of the Rive Gauche in Paris. With Jean Heuzé, one of Pierre Henry’s co-workers who helped out on this project, Éliane had the idea of screwing the speakers into the partitions so that they would be invisible with respect to the immaculate exhibition space. Due to this the sounds could vibrate within walls which become resonant surfaces. This description caused me to “leap up to the ceiling” because it is a technique that I used myself in my sound installation work… only twenty years later. I quickly felt it necessary to present this piece anew. In 2006, thanks to an active competition by the Consortium Art Center and the association “Cumulus” in Dijon (organizers of the contemporary music festival “Why Note”), it was possible to do a version among the old industrial buildings of “L'Usine”. Large plaster partitions were already in place and formed an ideal group of surfaces for the installation of loudspeakers. Resounding in these grand rooms, “Omnht” seemed to shake the entire building, thus creating a sonic architecture of time and space… A vast edifice of vibrations, built like a mirror of frequencies in which were reflected our inner worlds. It was admirable to see how much this work had resisted time; the fascinated reception by the public left no doubt as to its poetic force. After this public presentation I set up a stereophonic synthesis of that installation in my studio, by combining the original sounds with those taken at “L'Usine”. I felt a lively need to hear those magnificent sounds again. I realized moreover that the sonorities of “Omnht” survived the reduction quite well, and I found once more with happiness the unique intensity of this spatial composition.

Some time later, Éliane offered me one of the 10 copies of “Vice-versa, etc.”: a small handmade box, signed and numbered, realized as a multiple on the occasion of a show at Lara Vincy’s gallery in 1970, which contained a reel of magnetic tape and the instructions for use. It indicates that all playback speeds are possible, forwards or backwards, as well as any combination of two channels, on several recorders, “ad libitum”… A present which touched me profoundly. I took up the game and rapidly made mixings following the indications to the letter, respecting the composition methods of Éliane Radigue. Need I say that to work with such lovely sounds was a real pleasure?

Then I decided to do the same with all her sound installation works: slices of time from those sonic environments dedicated to space and infinity. There are so few spaces devoted to Sound Art, so the occasions for presenting such work to the public are rare. It seems evident to me that if we waited for that to happen very few people would have access to that part of Éliane’s work. Fundamentally, these stereophonic syntheses should have been made and published a long time ago because this compilation offers a simple way into the home of this passionate time.

Therefore, I proposed that we listen to them together, because of course the idea should seem legitimate to her. Knowing her to be extremely critical towards her past work, and ready to renounce certain aspects of it, I confess to being a bit anxious as to her reaction. Neither did I know how she would react to my taking the initiative in making such syntheses. Contrary to my apprehensions we passed a marvelous day. Éliane had forgotten practically everything of the sonic textures she made then, and discovered evident links with the sounds she realized later on with the synthesizer.

In her compositional work Éliane Radigue developed her own characteristic “footprint”: an art of imperceptible transition from one kind of movement to another. It is very difficult to know at what moment things change, because they are continually changing without one’s really being aware of it… a little like a natural phenomenon in perpetual mutation. This is doubtless one of the magical constituents of her music and it engenders the loss of any temporal reference point. If you look over the whole from her first compositions to the most recent ones for acoustic instruments, passing through the imposing electronic period, it seems evident that this way of gentle transition is a characteristic of her entire work. Not only within the compositions but also from one composition to another. We do not confront a collection of isolated experiences but rather embark on a patient and minute exploration of a vast poetic territory.

At the end of the day it was clear to her, just as it had been for me, that these syntheses had to be complied and published. This certainly does not replace the necessity of in-situ presentations; all of the music of Éliane Radigue is destined to vibrate spatiously and this is all-the-more so for the installations. And in any case, this collection gives a good overview of the intense beauty of these “Propos Sonores” composed so long ago with such reduced means.

By her original approach, Éliane Radigue held herself, as she still does, outside the dogmas of her epoch and therefore had to sometimes face some lack of understanding. Intuition is however her force, and she has known how to continue until today composing in full independence of spirit; her aesthetic gives forth a body of work unique in its genre, honorably recognized and appreciated today.

We are among the many who see her as a pioneer capable of revealing a precious territory of sounds, one that she seems alone to occupy. To us to enjoy this publication of the first remarkable steps of a figure who holds the music of our time in her spell.

Emmanuel Holterbach