Éliane Radigue’s working method is one of the most unusual among all composers today. Born in Paris in 1932, she spent her early career making music with tape loops feeding back on themselves, and later with the ARP 2500 synthesiser. But beginning in the late 1990s she began a series of extraordinary works for acoustic instrumentalists.
Much in the same way as she manipulated feedback on tape machines, this time live instrumentalists would be given a small, verbal instruction as impulse (typically a descriptive image), and asked to dwell on it. No notation is made by the composer, though players might make their own notes as memory aids. While attending to the play of high harmonics, musicians’ typically long and sustained pitches interact with utmost subtlety and delicacy (as can be heard in this recording by Quatuor Bozzini).
Radigue’s music is both intense and tranquil, enveloping us but also playing in the foreground. Her Occam series, all constructed in this way through verbal exchange with musicians, has grown to more than 60 works for different instrumental combinations.