The Music of Éliane Radigue

The Music of Éliane Radigue

Performed by Nate Wooley

Sun   Apr   02   2023 - 2:15 PM St. John's Cathedral

Few musicians have demonstrated such clarity of purpose for as long as the French composer Éliane Radigue, an artist whose engagement with sound is so rigorous, focused, and particular that her compositions almost seem like acts of nature. Although she grew up studying piano, her most important early experiences were absorbing the sounds of the planes landing at the airport in Nice, not far from where her family lived. When she discovered “Étude aux Chemins de Fer,” the earliest musique concrète work of Pierre Schaeffer, which transformed recordings of trains into a tape composition, her ideas fell into place.

She went to work as an assistant to both Schaeffer and the other major exponent of musique concrète, Pierre Henry, learning the tools of the trade and gaining access to the equipment she’d soon use to create her earliest work. She bypassed using recordings of the world around her, instead creating works of meticulously arranged and modulated feedback, before turning to early synthesizers like the Moog and the Buchla 100 before finding her long-time musical partner, the Arp 2500. Her work in both fields zoomed in on hyper-specific elements of sound production. Radigue’s music opens up sound, digging deep into its component parts, the partials and the way they interact with the fundamental tones. As cellist and Radigue collaborator Charles Curtis told writer Sasha Frere-Jones for a story in Artforum, “She’s not looking for nice pitch relationships or intervals. She starts with all those ringing properties and chooses the fundamental tones based on that. I think that’s how her listening is wired. It’s a unique way to listen to sound, and it may be the biggest factor in the music that she makes.” She continued to work strictly with electronic music for most of her career, but beginning in 2001 she subtly shifted toward writing pieces for, and later with, musicians, beginning with bassist Kasper P. Toeplitz. Since then, she’s only created music for instrumentalists.

Her most spectacular body of work is called Occam, a series of pieces developed directly with the musicians for whom she’s written each work. These gorgeously austere works explore the same areas as her electronic music, but there’s something more powerful about this spirit of collaboration than the pieces she conjured alone in her studio. This program presents two of her most stalwart collaborators—or as Radigue calls them, her chevaliers de Occam, knights of Occam—trumpeter Nate Wooley and clarinetist Carol Robinson, who toured the US as a duo playing these new works back in 2014, sharing solo and duo works created with the composer.

OCCAM X (2014) – Eliane Radigue
for trumpet

Air pouring into a trumpet is the definition of uncertainty. How will the machine speak? How does the sound start and end and what happens as it grows and evolves? OCCAM X plays with the rarely understood fragility of the instrument as the player pours air into the machine over and over again, ultimately realizing that the humanity of the process is as interesting as the sound that results.

N. Wooley

Eliane Radigue (1932, Paris, France) is renowned for her electronic music, particularly, the music she created on the ARP synthesizer. Her compositions are defined by micro-events caused by subtle changes in harmonics that dance above a seemingly static tone. The result is deeply moving. In 2005, Radigue began composing for acoustic instruments. First came  Naldjorlak, her grand trio for two basset horns and cello, and then, the ever-expanding OCCAM OCEAN series. These new works have been presented in museums, concert halls and festivals: Festival d’Automne – Paris, Huddersfield Contemporary, Angelica – Bologna, CTM.12 Spectral – Berlin, Crossing the Line – New York, Sound and Music – London, E- May – Vienna, [K] HEUTE – Hamburg, Geometry of Now – Moscow, MOCA – Cleveland, Serralves – Porto, Konzerthaus – Dortmund, MUDAM – Luxembourg, Biennale di Venezia, The Louvre and Pompidou Center – Paris… She recently received the Grand Prize for her oeuvre from the SACEM, the Giga-Hertz Prize from the ZKM in Germany, the Open Oor composition prize in the Netherlands, as well as a special mention from the Evens Foundation. Her complete electronic works were released in a box set by the GRM, and numerous acoustic pieces have been released on various labels, notably, SHIIIN.

Knoxville, TN · USA

Purchase Passes Now DONATE


Explore the lineup of upcoming Big Ears performances.







Discover travel, lodging, & dining options to enhance your festival experience.



Things To Do




Big Ears is made possible by the passion & generosity of our supporters.





The passion & generosity of our community makes Big Ears possible.



Parade & Street Party

City Songs


Learn more about what The New York Times calls “one of the world’s greatest music bashes.”

Who We Are