Éliane Radigue – Occam XXI

by 5:4

The second of the three works i’m exploring in this Éliane Radigue birthday long weekend is also the most austere. Not only is Occam XXI for a single instrument, violin, but also in contrast to perhaps the majority of the Occam series, the harmonic language of the piece is radically pared back, focusing exclusively on just two pitches, G and D. Yet i can’t help feeling that that almost ascetic level of restriction ends up providing perhaps the clearest possible demonstration of the liminality displayed in all of Radigue’s Occam works, always teetering back and forth between opposing senses of stability and instability, fluidity and stasis.

In Occam XXI there’s a similar demonstration of this to that found at the start of Occam River XV. A single pitch G hovers for around two minutes all by itself, and during that time, in addition to wavering and trembling there’s even hints of an inner rhythm, as if we were somehow becoming able to hear the individual pulses – all 392 of them, each second! – that create this pitch. i say 392, but perhaps i mean 784, as even at this stage it’s somewhat unclear which octave the G inhabits, and/or whether we’re glimpsing an upper overtone of a lower pitch. Ambiguity from the outset. Ds and additional Gs emerge in similarly inscrutable fashion, along the way causing strange, brief lowercase pulsings later on that i’ve never been able to decide whether or not are deliberate (or even partly imaginary). But in terms of details, there’s not much more one can say – as i mentioned before, Occam XXI is primarily a kind of archetype vehicle for the essence of Radigue’s critical forms of quasi- (or should that be pseudo-?) equilibrium.

That being said, while many of the Occam works act as steady states that one feels could, perhaps should, continue into eternity, Occam XXI has a rather more linear trajectory. Over time it becomes apparent that the pitch focus is heading downward, slowly working its way through the Gs and Ds to arrive at the bottom note of the instrument. This realisation makes the music feel a bit like watching a waterfall in ultra slow motion, seeing an endless, unstoppable torrent transformed into an elegant, graceful monolith, in the process sharpening our awareness to all the infinitesimal moments of inner micro-activity within each millisecond that become utterly lost and unknowable in the deluge of real time. In Occam XXI, we can practically feel time slowing to a crawl.

This performance of Occam XXI was given by violinist Angharad Davies at the Great Masson Cavern at the Heights of Abraham in September 2017.

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