Eliane Radigue – Mila’s Journey Inspired by a Dream: A Review

Eliane Radigue – Mila’s Journey Inspired by a Dream (Lovely Music, 1987)

Milarepa was a legendary Tibetan saint who, after a youth spent in banditry and pillage, embraced Buddhism, achieved enlightenment and became a wandering ascetic Crazy Wisdom master. Milarepa taught villagers the dharma by singing spontaneously formed didactic songs known as dohas, and both these songs and the tradition of spontaneous song-teaching are alive today in the Kagyu tradition of Tibetan Buddhism. In 1987, Paris-based composer and Buddhist Eliane Radigue, known for her remarkable just intonation tuned synthesizer droneworks such as Adnos I-III, produced this remarkable recording, simultaneously an hour plus drone, an English language narrative retelling of part of Milarepa’s life story by Sonic Arts Union composer Robert Ashley, and a Tibetan language rendition of some of Milarepa’s songs of enlightenment. Much of the piece’s charm comes from Ashley’s sly storytelling style, which resituates Milarepa as a blissed out but crafty old timer in a Spaghetti western, or a signifyin’ Southern Brer Rabbit character. If Radigue’s exquisite drone represents the perpetual presence of the infinite and timeless, and the story, the manifestation of relative, impermanent names and historical events within that infinite flow, the songs of Milarepa affirm the possibility of the union of the absolute and the relative in sparks of gorgeous melodic and linguistic form. And this union, as song or otherwise, is in fact what Mahayana Buddhists call enlightenment.

Originally published in The Wire.

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