Ah, there are drones and then there are drones.
It's always a fascinating question while listening to drone composition: What makes this one fantastic and that one tiresome? By definition, there's a common thread or two between drones — a steady state aspect, some kind of stasis. But beyond that, things can vary widely. There may or may not be a pulse, the number of elements can range from a single sound (though the idea of a"single sound" seems debatable) to a bewildering matrix of them, an infinite number of possible timbres and relationships between same, etc. Some of the most satisfying are those whose initial impression is one of unity and singularity but which, on closer listening, melt into innumerable strands, elements that are almost impossible to hear in isolation, so that the dialectic between whole and parts fluctuates endlessly, allowing no fixed purchase, inviting the listener to simply immerse and feel it through the pores.
Radigue's music, at its best, does just that, and "Tranamorem-Transmortem" is one of her best. Premiered at New York's The Kitchen in 1974, the work fulfills the basic drone requirement of being, at a cursory aural glance, more or less the same through its course: several layers of electronics in a consistent hum. But even the most scant attention paid will elicit the depth and inter-twinedness of those layers: a throbbing low tone, three or four mid-range ones, each with their own aspect, a keening high pitch that seems to waver just beyond Radigue's control. They not only pulse at different rates, none of them very regularly, but subtly alter timbres so that the waves formed by their varying amplitudes also take on slightly different character. This happens on an absolutely constant basis so, again, you have that tension between apparent uniformity and actual high complexity, impossible to concentrate on one or the other.
Some elements gain slight degrees of prominence for a few minutes, some subside, but essentially, "Transamore-Transmortem" simply occupies the room, breathing and very slowly evolving. The changes are like soft shadows of passing clouds traversing a form. After the work is over, one has the feeling of having experienced some 67 minutes out of a lifetime of a corporeal, sentient creature. Quite an accomplishment; essential listening.
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