Today I have been listening, on headphones and while attending to other tasks, to Eliane Radigue’s Trilogie de la Mort, having been reminded of its existence by a short poem of Barry Alpert’s. Responding to that poem, which includes the unusual word “adynamy”, I described Radigue’s trilogy as “lovely/terrifying”, and noted that it tended to induce “a deathly stillness in the listener”.
It is not an easy piece of music to listen to, at least not all the way through. Parts are simply very tranquil throbbing drones, but there is a kind of pressure behind even these sections, so that the drone can come to saturate and overpower awareness. After joking in conversation that it might be interesting to “drop acid, listen to the whole of Trilogie de la Mort, and see what sort of human being emerges from the other side of that experience”, I started listening with a more open (if pharmacologically unaltered) awareness, trying to imagine what it might be like to experience the piece in that way.
One section particularly disquieted me. There were two simultaneous textures, one which sounded like a low electronic drone and another which was a loop of some concrète material, a grainy sussuration, like the distant clamour of the world. Listening to it felt like being buried alive, experiencing both the “ground hum” of being and the incessant turmoil of phenomenal existence, in a kind of irreconcilable stasis, a disjunctive synthesis without any forward movement towards resolution.
There was an implacable harshness about this, an implication that ego-death need not necessarily entail tranquility or disconnection, but might be a kind of stricken abiding with everything that exists, without any promise of aesthetic “rightness” or harmoniousness. It strikes me that this is an aspect of the experience sought out by serious “heads” in the 1960s that is communicated in various ways in their own writings, but largely forgotten in the popular image of the psychedelic explorer at the centre of a pulsating field of rainbow-coloured emanations, euphorically at one with everything.