There are albums, like the Art Ensemble of Chicago's People in Sorrow, that rise from nearly nothing eventually to overwhelm with pathos. That masterpiece was certainly of its time, and it might be reasonable to view a statement like Radium as a reactive misreading of that late 1960s classic. The two long pieces begin similarly. Ernesto Rodriguez and company open this live recording with clicks, rasps, the occasionally defined pitch and low-register rumbles, clearly defined, that become absolutely mammoth about half-way through the 26-minute work. Radium is one of those really fascinating listening exercises in which it's nearly impossible to tell what is what and who is who, despite the fact that the recording is a wonder of detailed precision. Check out the pulse around the two-minute mark; who's responsible for it? Dig the whistling bits nearly seven minutes in, but from whence do they glide into focus? All of this ambiguity places those few tones that achieve any sustained prominence in a different light, like the vibrato-laden mid-range shimmer at around 10:30. It coopts attention, gradually at first, but fades just as quickly into a background hum of points, electronic whirrs and hums that might be a drone if they could be classified by pitch in any way near convincing.
Enough about structure however, as the form is even more interesting. The music does indeed build, then fade, then build again, fade again and build only to fade, in conclusion, into the myriad clicks that gave it life. This is no paean to the suffering of humanity, or at least not superficially. It ends up inhabiting a space closer to Mahler's final completed symphony as it rises, crests, fades toward silence only to rise again, but even that sense of motion is ultimately illusory. The whole experience can feel like a meditation on waves or a voyage through increasing levels of frustration and ultimate disillusion, but it is wonderfully done and expertly captured, especially those Gargantuan subfrequencies. They need to be experienced to be believed, anchoring nothing but providing a decidedly tactile element to a stimulating musical experience!
Comments and Feedback: