Thursday, July 11, 2019

Taking the one seat


In the note for his CD transfer of Éliane Radigue's Transamorem-Transmortem the composer and sound artist Emmanuel Holterbach explains the importance of media formats in the evolution of new music.
In their original form, Éliane Radigue's works are magnetic tapes. After being played a few times in public, the tape disappears to its case until a release proposal makes it available again through a disc.
During this period Eliane Radigue's compositions became fairly long, some lasting over an hour. Because the tracks could not be edited for some obvious reasons, a vinyl release was unthinkable. It was only in the 90s, with the advent of the CD format, that the long compositions of Eliane Radigue were made available (with the exception of the Song of Milarepa LP on Lovely Music, a work already divided into multiple movements and thus able to be fit onto two sides of an LP). For these reasons, the work of Éliane Radigue remained virtually unknown for twenty years - from the 70s to the 90s.
That note was written in 2010 and it is a tragedy that in the subsequent years the arrival of open-ended music delivery by streaming has not been exploited to bring unorthodox compositions such as those of Éliane Radigue to a wider audience. In fact the opposite has happened, with cut and paste mixtapes and playlists becoming the preferred mode of music consumption. The 67 minute Transamorem-Transmortem could have been conceived for surround sound home cinema systems, with Éliane Radigue explains the role of the Doppler effect in it as follows:
This monophonic tape should be played on 4 speakers placed in the four corners of an empty room. Carpet on the floor. The impression of different points of origin of the sound is produced by the localization of the various zones of frequencies, and by the displacements produced by simple movements of the head within the acoustic space of the room.
As explained in previous posts, Éliane Radigue's music is heavily influenced by Tibetan Buddhism. Her vision for Transamorem-Transmortem resonates with this teaching called 'taking the one seat' from the great teacher of the South Asian Theravada Buddhist tradition Ajahn Chah:
Just go into the room and put one chair in the centre. Take the one seat in the room and put one chair in the centre. Take the one seat in the centre of the room, open the doors and windows, and see who comes to visit. You will witness all kinds of scenes and actors, all kinds of temptations and stories, everything imaginable. Your only job is to stay in your seat. You will see it all arise and pass, and out of this, wisdom and understanding will come.
Ajahn Chah's teaching applies far beyond Éliane Radigue's eclectic music. Her compositions are by no means easy listening and they sit far beyond any accepted comfort zones. But today the concept of taking the one seat and just listening as music from beyond accepted comfort zones arises and passes is an alien one. Instead the selective technologies of our binary culture allow infinite personalisation, customisation and filtering. Which is why, despite the immense potential of streaming and other new digital technologies, the abstruse sound worlds of Éliane Radigue and other deserving composers remain virtually unknown. And it is why we are losing the war against digital sleep.

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