Quator Bozzini ~ Éliane Radigue: Occam Delta XV

In certain circles, Éliane Radique needs no introduction. Among the first generation of composers to experiment with electroacoustic music, Radigue began her musical education in the mid-fifties alongside the legendary Pierre Schaeffer, becoming one of the few women involved in the emergence of musique concrète. After early experiments with tape and feedback in the late sixties, she found what would become her characteristic sound via the ARP 2500 synthesizer, which she used exclusively for the next twenty-five years. In the early 2000’s, she finally turned to composing for acoustic instruments, bringing some of the most respected names in experimental music along for the ride.

The Canadian string quartet Quator Bozzini have also carved out a niche for themselves as an ensemble dedicated to a specific current of 20th and 21st century experimental music. Stemming largely from American minimalism and the work of John Cage, this tradition might also include names like Morton Feldman, Alvin Lucier, and James Tenney. Despite their obvious aesthetic differences, what these composers and Radigue have in common is more an approach than a single style, a philosophy rather than a system. In this tradition, simple processes yield complex results, time is a material, and the act of listening takes center stage.

Occam Delta XV is the latest work in the ever-expanding Occam Series, begun in 2011 and comprising over eighty unique pieces for a wide variety of instrumentations. Perhaps the defining feature of Radigue’s work throughout both her electronic and acoustic periods is an attention to microbeats, those rhythmic pulses that can emerge when interference patterns occur between similar frequencies. In Occam Delta XV, this is achieved via long, sustained tones that slowly change and recombine overtime. Yet the form of the piece remains something of a mystery: apparently, the performance instructions were conveyed to the ensemble by the composer herself without being written down, resulting in a piece that is never the same twice. For their part, Quator Bozzini describe the piece as something more like a state of mind than a score.

The album consists of two nearly equal halves, each comprising a performance of Occam Delta XV. The first rendition is akin to something like John Luther Adam’s Become Ocean or the opening movements of Radigue’s own Kyema (1988) from her epic Trilogie de la Mort. You feel the sun on your skin and the wind in your hair, the dawning of a new and solitary day. The second rendition is harmonically “darker” than the first, yet retains the contemplative air that characterizes Radigue’s work, with a seriousness that brings to mind her interest in Tibetan Buddhism. That the performers are able to coax such an orchestral texture from only four instruments is a testament to their skill and Radigue’s longtime-preoccupation with conjuring up these acoustic phenomena, yet it’s clear that the true work can only be experienced live, where the reverberations of the space create their own acoustic variations.

This is a slow listen: put it on in the background and you’ll completely miss the point. Take the time, listen to each track fully, and try to catch those shimmering tones as they go by. Something like a different mode of listening is possible here, if only you’ll let it emerge.

About petertracy

staff writer for a closer listen

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