Movement and stillness: Radigue, Pateras

Monday 6 February 2023

Nearly twelve years ago I was in the audience for Rhodri Davies giving the first performance of Éliane Radigue’s Occam I for prepared harp, little suspecting the proliferation of acoustic pieces that would follow in the series. I’ve blown hot and cold on them ever since that equivocal premiere, having heard various Occam iterations for solo, duo and larger groups which I found either intriguing, technically interesting or just rote. Occam Delta XV, composed for the Quatuor Bozzini in 2018, is the first Radigue piece that’s got me really enthused since hearing her Naldjorlak trilogy at that same gig so many years ago. While Naldjorlak creates awe through its sublime, immaculate surface, Occam Delta XV is far more turbulent. The drones that make up Radigue’s compositions have always been in constant motion, but this string quartet draws on an inherent complexity in the material seldom heard since she abandoned the use of analog synthesiser. A lot of that can be attributed to Quatuor Bozzini, too. Radigue taught them the piece orally and their peculiar quality of playing – making music sound both very new and very old all at once – comes to the fore here. Two performances are presented here, recorded live on consecutive nights in late 2021. It’s a piece that depends on communication and mutual feedback between the four musicians to guide its progress, and so the two versions vary greatly, with each sounding more like a studio creation than a live gig. In the first, variations in the bowing produce a handwoven, folk-like aspect to the music, stretched and suspended into watery, wavering overtones like a Canterbury hippie’s pastoral reverie. Pitch material varies over the course of the piece, thickening into a dense passage of multiphonics while transforming further and further away from its tonal origins. From the second night, things are calmer but darker, thinning out into wisps of harmonics before ultimately resolving in more conventional fashion. I wonder if other quartets could produce astonishing results from this piece, but I suspect they would be very different from the Bozzini.

Speaking of constant movement in one place, I’ve also just listened to Anthony Pateras’ Two Solos. We’ve established now that Pateras is in the second phase of his compositional career, having progressed from florid and convulsive activity to more focused and studious work. The two solos here are in fact each for soloist accompanied by themselves on tape. On Palimpsest Geometry Callum G’Froerer plays double-bell trumpet, a thicket of staccato repeated notes that vary in texture, timbre and (microtonally) in pitch through rapid shifting between mutes, changes in articulation and the compunding effect of the layered trumpets on tape. The combination of multicoloured brass and bustling motion with a steadfast refusal to take any particular direction makes it sound like an unusually disciplined work by Lucia Dlugoszewski. At first hearing, it was great while it lasted but still felt like a less substantial work than some of his other pieces. Following it with the flipside, There Is A Danger Only Our Mistakes Are New for voice and tape, put the album into a new perspective. Clara La Licata gently sings small phrases that rock back and forth between two pitches, overlapping each other into a babble that both lulls and disturbs. The vulnerability of the voice contrasts against the preceding brass and opens up more profound implications in both works, with communication made clearer even as the voice is wordless.