Monday, June 25, 2018

Unsung heroine who is obscured by orthodoxy


Progress is not about doing the same. Progress is about doing different in the hope of eventually doing better. The recent BBC 4 TV documentary Unsung Heroines showcased the lives and music of Hildegard of Bingen, Francesca Cacinni, Clara Schumann, Florence Price and Elizabeth Maconchy. All of these women composers are dead. Two are medieval, only one was born in the 20th century, and none lived into the current century. So the documentary did an excellent job of confirming that women composers are eminently capable of doing the same as their dead, male and predominantly white peers. But the programme was less effective in highlighting the unsung living heroines who are not only doing different but also doing better than their male peers. Which contributes to the unfortunate impression that the present advocacy of women classical musicians is more about giving them an equal share of a toxic celebrity-centric status quo rife with other systemic financial and racial inequalities, and less about the total overthrow of that insidious and constraining status quo.

One unsung living heroine who is obscured by this orthodoxy is Éliane Radigue, seen above. Later this week the 86-year-old composer's 24th composition composition Occam XXIV is being premiered at the Open Frame festival in Sydney. Australia. Éliane Radigue's reputation was built on her pioneering monolithic electronic works informed by her deep interest in Tibetan Buddhism. But Occam XXIV is one of a new sequence of purely acoustic works, with the composer explaining that "I do not renounce my electronic work, though I never accomplished anything that completely satisfied me. The end result was always a compromise between what I wanted to do and what I was technically able to do using the means available. Conversely, with these [acoustic] musicians, I was finally able to hear, for the first time, the music that I call 'my sound fantasies'".

The first part of the sequence Occam Ocean 1 has been recorded for the Shiin label by its dedicatees, Julia Eckhardt viola, Rhodri Davies harp, and Carol Robinson on the birbynė, a Lithuanian aerophone. Sound therapist Lyz Cooper has described music as organised sound, and in Occam, as with her other projects, Éliane Radigue challenges listeners by stripping music of the comfort zone of organisation and taking them back to its core ingredient, pure sound. For decades Éliane Radigue has been exploring sonic territory where other composers - both male and female - fear to tread, and she deserves to be appropriately recognised for this.

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