Éliane Radigue – Occam Delta XV (UK Première)

by 5:4

To conclude my Éliane Radigue birthday weekend, i’m returning to a work in the Occam series that i’ve briefly written about previously, Occam Delta XV. The piece dates from 2018 and results from a collaboration between Radigue and Quatuor Bozzini. In a way that i hope isn’t too fanciful, the overall structure of the piece is a kind of macrocosm for the moment-by-moment liminality that i’ve been discussing in these articles, and which continually serves to make the Occam works teeter between certainty and vagueness, volatility and calm.

Although the first section of the piece exhibits exactly this same kind of unstable stability, the rich opening chord is delicately robust (i previously described it as “simultaneously final yet provisional”), as if we were hearing a drawn-out resolution – like a squeezebox impossibly moving in only one direction – the composition seemingly ending as soon as it’s begun. But this is Éliane Radigue, and in due course the integrity of this chord becomes slowly undermined and begins to unravel. It’s a process that starts with small-scale, barely noticeable judders, but beyond that it isn’t easy to describe exactly how it happens. It’s rather like the individual pitches gradually migrating tiny distances away from their centres, thereby imperceptibly changing the language of the chord, its inner emphases and, ultimately, its very nature.

A third of the way through and everything is transformed. The music has become wan and washed out, turned in on itself. Where before there was richness, Occam Delta XV has now passed into a distressed sonic landscape where nothing can speak properly or clearly. Everything is vague and uncertain – save for the certainty that comes from continuity – with more than a few echoes of Beckett’s The Unnamable: “Keep going, going on, call that going, call that on.” The small-scale liminality at the heart of Radigue’s Occam works has been writ large, leading to an extended sequence of abject vagueness, where even the timbral characteristics of the quartet itself becomes questioned when strange flute-like notes emerge from somewhere.

Liminality forever tilts, though, and gradually the piece regains a sense of stability. A mid-register G proposes solidity, though at this stage still festooned with dissonant notes above and no hint yet of something approximating a fundamental. But a couple of minutes later, now two-thirds through, a low C consolidates that G and while dissonance continues to fly above like sparks over a bonfire, it’s the unmistakable beginnings of what will ultimately become a resolution. This turns out to be as rich as the piece began, coalescing into a kind of luscious harmony that brings to mind Messiaen’s conception of the chord on the dominant, which for him “contains all the notes of the major scale“. In this context, it seems to suggest that kind of chord works just as well as a pseudo-‘tonic’, the 7ths and 9ths and even a waxing and waning F only seeming to make the underlying C feel all the more certain and fixed, the pitches perhaps all acting to hold each other in place.

This overall narrative shape suggests a kind of linear structure (as with Occam XXI), yet considering how the piece began, this ostensibly ‘final’ chord seems just as likely that it too might start to evolve further in due course, leading into another lengthy sequence of ambiguity. And on and on, back and forth, tension and resolution. Just because Occam Delta XV happens to finish at this point, whether or not it’s ‘the end’ is another matter.

The UK première of Éliane Radigue’s Occam Delta XV was given by Quatuor Bozzini at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival in November 2018.

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