For days now, I have heard a steady ringing in my right ear. I have been isolated for twenty days. The relationship with my own sounds and those of my environment have become part of my routine. A pandemic reduced to a lockdown. This self-isolation has turned the streets into resounding spaces. The rain usually accompanies the first days of spring in Barcelona. The drops bounce and generate a subtle adagio. Birds sing in stereo. Your steps move to the beat of your breathing. At the same time, the silence highlights what we used to take for granted: the sensible beep of the fridge, the arrhythmic vibrato of the washing machine, the high-pitched hiss of water as it boils.
I tend to overthink. I create scenarios in my head and review those scenarios dozens of times. I am suffering from insomnia, and I have nightmares: A tooth has fallen out. A horde chased me last night. I have seen blood, fire, moss, emptiness. I must say, my mental health is in an extremely vulnerable position. The silence and resonance of my own thoughts have pushed me to find ways to tune into myself. It has sparked a keen interest in the sounds around me and what they are trying to tell me. Meditation helps a lot, as well as experimenting with the modular synth. Sustained and heavy sounds (drones) focus and stimulate my attention, reducing my alertness to this intermediate state in which we are. Uncertainty confronts our sense of the future and the concept of stability. If you suffer from depression and anxiety, like me, tuning into the collective consciousness is inevitable. You feel irritable and sensitive most of the time.
Being alone with yourself can be more complicated than it seems. I have decided to explore who I am during this time from a spiritual point of view to an artistic persona. Revisiting Éliane Radigue‘s discography has served as an anchor in this microscopic state of self-exploration. Her work has always been focused on the gradual evolution of long sounds and the infinite potentials of these small electroacoustic changes. “The way the sound behaves reflects our interior rhythm, our nervous system“, said Éliane in an interview. Her story begins with Pierre Schaeffer and his works with concrete music and the notion of “sound objects” in the 1950s. Subsequently, in the sixties, she worked as an assistant to Pierre Henry in conducting the electroacoustic oratory L’Apocalypse de Jean. But it was not until the 1970s that Éliane finally discovered her path.
American minimalism and the musical conceptual simplicity recreated by composers like John Cage unleashed in the French an almost organic awareness of the importance of music as a means of altered states of consciousness. In 1974, she presented Adnos at Mills College at the invitation of Terry Riley. This first work was her introduction to the world of Tibetan Buddhism. She spent three years dedicated to the practice with the guru Pawo Rinpoche, resulting in the culmination of Adnos II (1979) and Adnos III (1980). This dense and meditative sound styling together with delicate graduation of waves and resonances would continue with Songs Of Milarepa (1983) and Jetsun Mila (1986). Between 1988 and 1993, and inspired by the Tibetan Book of the Dead, she would create her great masterpiece, La Trilogie de la Mort. The relevance of this evolution is subject to the implication associated with this book and our sense of intermediation. The Bardo Thodol or ‘liberation by hearing during the intermediate state’ is an instructional guide for the dying and the dead which– according to the belief of Tantric Buddhism in Tibet– enables enlightenment to be achieved during the immediate post-death period (which lasts 49 days). After that, the reincarnation cycle occurs. The book itself does not speak only of passing but explains the three transitory states: death, reality and rebirth.
Are we not in the midst of a transition between what we were, what we are, and what we will become? Are we not leaving behind old structures of thought, beliefs and states of consciousness to come closer to an ideal of the collective individual in which empathy and solidarity are fundamental values? My connection with these albums has been wholly spontaneous and, equally, fated. Éliane has been my aural guidance during this intermediate phase that will gradually release us. I have felt the need to thank her for her act of creating by writing this short essay in which I share my experience, my feelings and a little history about Radigue‘s work as a composer. I am on the twentieth day of my symbolic death and on the eve of my reincarnation cycle. I wonder who I will meet on my journey, who will stay, who will fade away, and who will I become.
“The present is always a junction in the mind of past memories and future projections. Especially in difficult moments, these three can appear unified in a present that becomes singular, immense and eternal.” – Intermediate Spaces: Éliane Radigue, Julia Eckhardt.