Alvin Lucier has long made a practice of developing ideas and compositions that skirt the boundaries, if such boundaries exist, between music and sonic phenomena. These often involved extended duration and a soundscape wherein the variations are extremely subtle, often akin to staring at a "blank" wall and, over time, coming to realize the enormous, not immediately apparent wealth of detail contained therein. Needless to say, such experimentation can test the patience of even the most intrepid of listeners.
String Noise, a two-disc set containing three compositions performed by the duo of the same name (Conrad Harris and Pauline Kim Harris on violins), does just that. "Tapper" (2004), realized here by Conrad Harris, for whom it was written, asks the violinist to strike the body of their instrument with the butt end of the bow. It unfolds in a number of discreet sections over the course of its 52+ minutes. The tempi vary, though they're generally on the rapid side, often hastening or slowing the pace during the "event". As well, though one has the sense that the musician is asked to play as steadily and regularly as possible, there's always some small variation in strength of attack, precise area of impact, etc. One initially hears the dry, abrupt crack of wood on wood as the prime sound-area but quickly comes to realize that the surrounding, room-generated aural cloud is just as important, arguably more so. In fact, the rapid attenuation of sharp noise into cloud, together combine to form an area of great fascination and beauty. The dogged repetitiveness becomes mesmerizing and revelatory.
"Love Song" (2016) is for two violins connected by a long wire. In a manner I can't begin to explain, the tones played by the violinists are carried to each other via the wire, resonating in their companion instruments as the players circle each other. The result is a keening, howling maelstrom, a pained song indeed. As above, it proceeds in episodes, the music shifts ever so slightly, becoming more siren-like here (very intense), grainier there. The complex interaction of tones, overlapping and receiving enhancements from the room, make for a bracing piece, a rather ruthless examination of relationships. Lastly, we have "Halo" (2019), for one or more violins in which the player is asked to maintain a single, bowed pitch (here, rich and resonant) and walk across the room in a zigzag pattern, generating "haloes" of tones derived from the acoustic properties of the space. In a way, this is both the most approachable and demanding work presented here. Approachable in that the basic sound is relatively familiar and nonabrasive, demanding in that the overtones and other enhancements are very subtle and slightly more difficult to perceive (though, really, very apparent if one listens well). An extremely satisfying, "actively meditative" work.
Overall, an excellent addition to the already inspiring canon of Lucier, one of the deepest investigators of the spatio-acoustic world we're lucky enough to have around.
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