You would think, by now, i’d be getting the hang of this piece. Éliane Radigue‘s Occam Delta XV, conceived for the Bozzini Quartet, has crossed my path on a couple of occasions, first at its UK première in Huddersfield in 2018, a performance that i subsequently explored in more depth, and again in January this year at the Dark Music Days in Iceland. i was struck by how different the two accounts of the work had seemed from each other, and that experience has been compounded by a new recording the Bozzini’s have released, featuring two further performances, made on successive days in November 2021.
The first observation to make is that the Huddersfield version, at around 20 minutes’ duration, is nearly half as long as the two recorded performances (37:25 and 36:31 respectively; i didn’t time the Iceland performance but i’m sure it was about the same length). i don’t know the reason for such an extensive change in duration, but considering some of its siblings in Radigue’s output, it may have something to do with optional aspects in terms of how long to remain in one episode before moving on to the next. All the same, an almost doubling in length is surprising.
i used the phrase “unstable stability” to describe the piece before, and as with so much of Radigue’s music, that seems to be an appropriate way to regard its inherent musical behaviour. But of course, the key thing with both of those words is that they constantly undermine each other. What this does not result in is ‘balance’ (i’ve just checked and am relieved to see i’ve never used that word when exploring Radigue’s music); on the contrary, while there’s the semblance of an equilibrium, Occam Delta XV occupies a gentle but permanent tension, like a piece of elastic constantly being gently stretched and released. i don’t hear that as ‘balance’, but as flux, friction, discreet energy, with the abiding sense throughout that, though where we are right now might be somewhere we stay for a while, the music is always looking ahead, ever caught in the midst of a gradual process from infinity to infinity.
From a listening perspective, an outcome of this is that it throws a lot of attention on the here and now, what’s happening in the music moment by moment. For music so glacially slow that might seem counterintuitive, yet it’s that sense of its infinitude that makes the question of a longer-term listening perspective (something i’ve spent years trying to cultivate) seem rather moot. It’s not that such a longer-term perspective is impossible, or meaningless, rather that what Radigue so often seems to be striving for in these works is that persistent state of semi-static movement, where lingering on what’s taking place right now is just as significant as what was happening five, 10 or 20 minutes ago.
In these two performances of Occam Delta XV that liminal stasis is beautifully realised, the Bozzinis keeping things in a tantalising state of sounding resolved, unresolved and in the process of resolving all at the same time. The work’s fluid harmonicity passes between contrasting states of simple and complex, purity and dirtiness; oblique notes suggest themselves as passing notes but don’t so much resolve as become grafted onto the chordal core. Even after this has happened, and that core has been delicately recoloured, it still doesn’t sound like a resolved action; again, everything points on, to the necessity for something more.
Especially nice is the way the Bozzinis control the texture as it ventures into more fragile territory. In the first track (‘2021-11-09’), at around the midpoint there’s a curious impression of rumble, and the harmony seems to be pulling in all directions such that the music sounds like it could just come apart at the seams. It ends up registrally polarised but somehow a perfect fifth fundamental rematerialises, whereupon the upper notes become dancing harmonics of the lower. In the second track (‘2021-11-10’), the fragility sounds more marked, which is appropriate considering how the opening minutes of this performance exhibit a greater sense of flux, as if made of concentric chords rotating at different rates, a mesmerising effect. The fundamental returns in the same way, and the closing minutes of both performances are, depending on your perspective, either an extended coda, gently tilting like soft fabric wafting in a breeze, or simply the current stage in an ongoing process without beginning or end.