Listening session n°6

The sixth installment of the  Untraining the Ear Listening Sessions pays a very special homage to French composer and electronic music pioneer Éliane Radigue.

The music is a mirror of the mind but also, somehow, of the body. I’ve always imagined these sounds to have their own personality; after listening to them, at a point it becomes a dialogue with the sounds.

Éliane Radigue, in:  Schütze, Paul, “Surround Sound”, Frieze (01.10.2001)

Radigue, who has been active for over four decades, composed using synthesizer and tape to create pieces of long duration and deep contemplation. By reducing her compositions to a few sound events that gradually appear, overlap, recede, and oscillate in critical frequencies over long periods of time, Radigue produces a hyper-attentive environment in which each sound is maximally charged. Space and time seem to deform and dissolve. Sound becomes a door into a world beyond.

A student of piano and harp, Radigue was composing music before she heard a broadcast by musique concrète founder Pierre Schaeffer. She became his student shortly thereafter in the early 50s, and also worked as an assistant to Pierre Henry, during which time she created some of the sounds that appeared in his work.  

She created her first synthesizer-based music in 1970-71, while working at the New York University School of the Arts. At this stage, her goal was to create a slow, purposeful process of ‘unfolding’ sound, which she felt to be closer to the minimal composers of New York at the time than to the French musique concrète. But it was her move towards explorations with synthesizers and recording tape that began garnering considerable attention. Two pieces from this era will be diffused by Francois Bonnet, who is currently head of the INA GRM Groupe de recherches musicales and also active as an artist under his Kassel Jaeger moniker. Both compositions Arthesis (for Moog synthesizer) and Biogenesis (for ARP synthesizer) belong to Radigue’s steady-state, pulse oriented synth works, and have cast an ever-widening influence over younger improvisers over the years, especially those concerned with the layering of extended tones and the unanticipated patterns that emerge.

Biogenesis as described Julian Cowley in The Wire, “combines the heartbeats of Radigue's son and her pregnant daughter, with the rhythms of her grandchild, then still in the womb. This 'hymn to the perpetuation of life' was realized using an ordinary microphone and a stethoscope." A technique that Radigue has described as "something absolutely not professional" when conversing with Cowley, he continues underscoring that "the result is stirringly corporeal.”[1]

After presenting the first of her Adnos pieces in 1974, it was suggested that her music was deeply related to meditation and Tibetan Buddhism, which she proceeded to explore thereafter while stopping to compose music for a while. When Radigue took up her career again in 1979, she continued to work with the ARP synthesizer, which became her signature instrument until the turn of the millennium. At that point, in response to a select group of musicians, Radigue began creating works for specific performers and has dedicated herself to these works, mostly for acoustic instruments, since 2004. For Radigue, collaborating with other musicians was an epiphany.

Someone once said I was trying to do with acoustic music what I had tried to do with electronic music, but it’s the exact opposite! 

Éliane Radigue, in: Bécourt, Julien, “Éliane Radigue: The Mysterious Power Of The Infinitesimal,” Red Bull Music Academy Daily.

The second part of the performance programme focuses on such acoustic works via her latest compositional cycle, OCCAM Ocean, which to date includes 22 solo pieces, small ensemble configurations called OCCAM Rivers and OCCAM Deltas, and the orchestral iteration OCCAM Ocean. 

The cycle is named after philosopher William of Ockham and his principle that the simplest option is always the best. “OCCAM V” was composed for and in consultation with cello player Charles Curtis, a longtime friend and collaborator who was the first to convince her to  work in the acoustic music domain. “OCCAM RIVER XVI” was likewise envisioned for another longtime friend and collaborator clarinetist Carol Robinson (performing here on the Lithuanian reed instrument, the birbynė), and harpist Rhodri Davies, who collaborated with Radigue on the first OCCAM solo in 2011.

The sixth listening session is a part of Untraining the Ear: SAVVY Contemporary, Deutschlandfunk Kultur and CTM Festival suggest an alternative way to listen to music and sound through a year series of events – UNTRAINING THE EAR, split into six listening sessions. We invite up-and-coming Berlin based, international musicians and composers, to perform sixty-minute long program of an uninterrupted listening session preceded by a moderated conversation between performers, curators and listeners. This will be premiered live in SAVVY Contemporary and premiered for the first time on the air of Deutschlandfunk Kultur.

Moreover, in order to contextualise how we listen to the world today we also need to replay the past of abounding sonic references. We (the audience, the performers, the space, the radio, the moderators and the technicians) will rhetorically navigate through archives of maverick composers in the attempt to reindex their contributions, to create other possible genealogies and narratives. By involving sound practitioners coming from diverse genres to perform, and scholars to discuss works of the composers, we listen back to the influence and ingeniosity of musicians and sound artists who defy the linearity of 20th century avant-garde music history. We would like to shed light on and unbox works of pioneers such as Halim El-Dabh, Eliane Radigue, Jose Maceda to mention a few. We will also commission new works to echo and reflect (with a contemporary take) rare archival body of works that have been marginalised by history of avant-garde music and sound art.


Cowley, Julian, “Eliane Radigue: Death Becomes Her,” The Wire, February 1999.