This coming Sunday is French composer Éliane Radigue‘s birthday, so by way of a little celebration, i’m going to devote a long weekend to some of her more recent work. Having spent much of her life creating electronic music (exclusively composed on the ARP 2500), for the last decade-and-a-bit Radigue’s attention has been turned towards acoustic instruments. Her work is characterised by slowly-moving sound materials, often in the form of drones, becoming focused epicentres of pitch around and about which other sounds are heard, either actually being or at least appearing to be integrated with and/or emanating from those epicentres, resulting in complex beats and harmonic undulations. No doubt informed by being a practicing Buddhist, these intense soundworlds, caught between stasis and movement, continue to fascinate Radigue, as can be heard to good effect in her ongoing OCCAM OCEAN project.
In OCCAM RIVER XII, for cello and harp, it’s hard to tell apart the two instruments, since the harp is also played with a bow. The two instruments combine in a complex drone on the note F, in which harmonics are audible from the start. C is the most strongly emphasised upper partial, but B-flat can also be heard, and it’s to this pitch that the drone unexpectedly moves, in an episode around halfway through that’s filled with harmonic ambiguity. Eventually, the music gravitates to C, richly but subtly coloured with any number of additional, shifting partials of varying weight (the texture here, and to some extent throughout, bears resemblance to The Hafler Trio’s Trilogy in Three Parts). Whereupon, having coalesced onto a fragile-sounding 7th, the music gradually weakens, and the drone disappears, leaving a collection of floating overtones under which faint echoes of the drone can just about be glimpsed.
The first performance – riveting and beautifully controlled – took place at last year’s Tectonics festival in Glasgow, given by harpist Rhodri Davies and cellist Charles Curtis.