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Alvin Lucier / The Barton Workshop - Wind Shadows

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Artist: Alvin Lucier / The Barton Workshop

Album: Wind Shadows

Label: New World

Review date: Dec. 5, 2005


When put into words, Alvin Lucier's methodologies for composition might seem to suggest scientific experiments more than they do music. But the end results of the composer's efforts are quite often fascinating and endlessly interesting. At their best, they reveal Lucier's instinct for hunting down concepts that lead right to the heart or perhaps the organ of corti of listening; of auditory perception itself.

Lucier, born in 1931 and thus one of the just- post-John Cage generation, is probably most famous for his 1969 work, "I Am Sitting In a Room," wherein recorded spoken words are played back and re-recorded multiple times, until room-sound, resonant frequencies, and signal loss transform the words into new, ever-changing and ultimately, harmonically and mathematically sublime sonic information.

This recent double-disc collection offers a large helping of Lucier's works from the past two-and-a half decades. The pieces fall into two groups: works for instrumentalists interfacing with the drones and tonal sweeps of electronic oscillators, and more only slightly more "traditional" works for various chamber ensembles.

For an example of the first type, let us take "A Tribute to James Tenney." The double-bass, played with precision and intensity by Jos Tieman, engages in dialogue with tones generated by two pure wave oscillators; pitches meet and part, undulate and beat against each other. Essential to the effect of this music is the subtle and somewhat sneaky way drama and discourse between the tones eventually reaches out beyond the hermetic relationship between player and machine to encompass the acoustics of the playback room and, ultimately, the inner worlds of the listener.

Serving as an example of the second type of piece, "40 Rooms" is a sort of concerto for room sounds: notes played by members of a quintet are allowed to delay and decay within a dizzying array of digitally simulated acoustic spaces. The effect is oddly unsettling, as impossible architectures of reverberation build and blossom in sonic space. Slightly less successful perhaps is another chamber piece, "Letters," in which a glossalia created from attack and delay and glissed notes attempts to stand in for vowels and consonants, spelling out a coded message in woozy loops and circles; like tones and timbres chasing their own tails.

Lucier seems to want us to come back always to the act of listening itself: its sensual, psycho-acoustic, and aesthetic energies. And mention should be made of the players of The Barton Workshop: The aforementioned Jos Tieman, trombonist James Fulkerson, clarinetist John Anderson, pianist Frank Denyer, and string players Marieke Keser and Judith van Swaay. These are musicians whose control of their instruments and unerringly fine pitch perception and execution play no small part here in the realization of Lucier's unique idea- world of sonic phenomena.

By Kevin Macneil Brown

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