Alvin LUCIER (b. 1931)
Carbon Copies (1989) [20:06]
Risonanza (1982) [13:12]
Music for Pure Waves, Bass Drums and Acoustic Pendulums (1980) [18:52]
Broken Line (2006) [11:55]
Trio Nexus (Erik Drescher (glissando flute & instruments); Sebastian Berweck (piano & instruments); Martin Lorenz (percussion & instruments)
rec. 2012, Siemensvilla Berlin-Lankwitz, Germany
MODE RECORDS 281 [64:27]

I last had a big Alvin Lucier session back in 2013 with releases on the New World Records label (review). The booklet notes for this release were written by the late lamented Bob Gilmore, who opens in describing Lucier as “the great American poet of acoustic phenomena, a composer who over the past half century has created a body of work that has opened our ears and minds to the behaviour of sound in space.”

Experimental, conceptual, whatever you want to call it, Alvin Lucier’s creations hold a fascination that is multi-layered, creating unique and secretive places in which one’s mind can wander extensively. Carbon Copies takes a cycle of recorded sounds, including the ‘peep’ of a caged bird, the sounds of someone making coffee, and dripping water. These sounds permeate much of the piece as a gentle ostinato, the musicians imitating the sounds as they listen through headphones, then continuing as the original sounds over loudspeakers are faded out and we are left with the musicians alone as they imitate or elaborate on those sounds. The result is a static, almost ritualistic soundscape occurring within a strict but extremely open and transparent – and indeed highly poetic framework.

Risonanza is based on the idea of finding an object that can be made to resonate and generate its own timbre when excited by a sine wave. This is the work of a fourth, “non-breathing player”, in this case working a large oil barrel and a crash cymbal, hence the cover art for this release. The extended notes of the wind players interfere with the resonance patterns created, and unusual chords and textures emerge, slowly evolving over time. This is a powerful statement but you may find it creates controversy amongst your pets and partners.

Music for Pure Waves, Bass Drums and Acoustic Pendulums shares features in common with Risonanza but can also work as an installation as well as a performance piece. The skins of the bass drums are set in motion through an electronic oscillator, and the pendulums are ping-pong balls that swing and impact the drums at different speeds. This set-up is pictured on the back of the CD, and it creates both an acoustic ‘dripping’ of sounds on resonant surfaces and a workout for your woofers in the moments through which the effect of the oscillators can be heard best. The general sound level is quiet, but can be quite insistent.

Broken Line is the only piece here actually written for Trio Nexus, and “about as close as Lucier has come to writing chamber music in the traditional sense.” This is the first recording I’ve come across to make serious use of flautist Robert Dick’s invention of a glissando headjoint for the flute, which can slide in and out like the crook of a trombone. These slow and gentle slides are set against notes from the non-sliding piano and vibraphone, and the effect, like that of Gloria Coates's Perchance to Dream, is unsettling to say the least. The varying microtones generate interference patterns, “gentle rhythmic fluctuations … like the flickering of a candle in the wind.”

This ‘modern stuff’, as I am so often reluctantly forced to acknowledge, will not be for everyone. If you are after a ‘quick fix’ of something easy then seek elsewhere, but it you like letting your mind be immersed in a benign environment where unusual ideas are explored and unexpected sounds are created, then here’s a fantastic place to dip your neurons.

Dominy Clements

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