For the past two weeks, Sound And Music has presented a two-week retrospective of the work of Eliane Radigue. St Stephen Walbrook church has showcased her electronic works over the last eight evenings, and tonight’s performance of “L’île re-Sonante” – the final piece Eliane composed on her once beloved ARP 2500 synthesiser – left me feeling absolutely gutted that I hadn’t been able to attend any of the events previous, but relieved that I’d been able to share in the experience for 55 minutes at least.
I’ll confess to only really being familiar with her earlier electronic material, and found myself rather taken aback by how far things had come since the likes of CHRY-TPUS. “L’île re-Sonante” was more explicit in its movements, with Eliane’s trademark minimalistic “unfolding of sound” acting as a springboard to more elaborate dynamic turns, guiding the piece between a distinct set of sections.
Care and attention had clearly been paid to the set-up of both speakers and audience. Of course, any concert in a church is at mercy to its lavish acoustics and must incorporate itself accordingly, so it’s lucky that Eliane’s music co-operates so naturally with such a setting. Pews were placed in a circle around the centre, with speakers arranged in four corners behind them – essentially, the attendees were encapsulated in the sound.
That’s not to say that the music simply enveloped the audience throughout. The piece’s sparser sections (often based around delicately throbbing, low-frequency drones) became directionless, emanating at a quiet volume so as to merely linger in the room rather than swamp it. Personally, I found the performance quite surreal during these moments: being sat with fifty-or-so people that felt connected to Eliane’s work, all facing inwards and toward eachother, in shared appreciation of an experience usually associated with contemplation in absolute solitude.
Yet this feeling was less prominent once “L’île re-Sonante” swelled into its louder moments: the first a beautiful climax of choral and organ tones flooding out in harmonious major key, and the second an unsteady swirl of murky drones that slinked between one another. I wasn’t used to Eliane utilizing such an explicit form of contrast, but was thankful to see it executed so fluidly, and to such intense emotional effect.
My only two criticisms had nothing to do with the performance itself. The first is that even the slightest peep of audience shuffling cut cruelly across the music – occasionally it took no more than a split-second coat-crinkle to haul me briskly back into reality. The second is the fact that it all passed far, far too quickly. Of course, this could have been prevented if I’d been able to attend the other events that comprised this retrospective, which – if tonight was anything to go by – have helped construct a worthy tribute to a composer that most deserves it.