The news that Alvin Lucier left us a few days ago cut a weird and deep wound in our heart. Lucier clearly lived a full and dynamic 90 years, but his work has quality that always exudes this sense of a joyous endlessness. His music and ideas span decades, and still feels like they are slowly unravelling into the universe.
The sonic world of Alvin Lucier takes the phenomena of sound and showcased it in way that feels like an actual gateway to invigoratingly real psychedelic worlds. This is a world that you might glimpse in moiré patterns on mesh panels, and in those recurring fundamental patterns in chaos…
His masterpiece is I Am Sitting In A Room. An ‘achievement of mankind’ as Rafael Toral beautifully summed it up in tribute. A simple experiment in layers, a recording of a recording of a recording… The piece slowly fractalizes around a statement simply explaining the process.
I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.
The piece itself can be centred on any sound or statement but whatever the source (there are numerous versions), over the next 45 minutes or so, that sound slowly turns to evidence of another realm. This feels like how bats or squid may view the world. It’s an experience that whittles itself down to some form of aural soul.
A totally curious scientific behaviour, and as each passing loop reveals itself, you can’t help dreaming of how wild and beautiful things will get as this process slowly develops. The trickle of time animated and plotted, the way the space and sound gradually describe themselves and dissolve into each other.
It’s a cold technical procedure and at the same time – third eye zapping brilliance.
In a kosmic coincidence, the great man was on my mind before this sad news reached us. By some interconnected overlap, only last week we changed our banner on FaceBook to one of Lucier’s photos mid zone out during Music For Solo Performer. Our most recent wave of love for him was due to having just sat through the oddly charming Beatles – Get Back documentary.
Lucier’s Nothing Is Real (Strawberry Fields Forever) for piano, amplified teapot, tape recorder, and miniature sound system is quite possibly the most gorgeous response to The Beatles music ever. A hanging fragment, a shadow, the merest suggestion, the tiniest slice, that still represents the whole. A tiny cluster of notes, birthed into space, that outlines the vastness of what that song represents without anything superfluous. A journey across the universe, compressed onto an atom. Nothing is real.
In the last few years, he seemed to be as active as ever, delighting in friendships and collaborating with a superb cast of players. It’s certain he was in no doubt how much he was regarded by his contemporaries as well as his ongoing influence on younger generations. But the lasting image of him during the later years, is of him smiling, regularly proudly turned out in a Black Lives Matter hoody – just to make you love him even more.
Alvin Lucier is a huge loss to experimental music, but he leaves a stunning catalogue of work that will remain forward thinking for a very long time to come.
A true innovator.
Alvin Lucier 1931 – 2021
(photo Black Truffle Records)