Intermedia Art

New Media, Sound and Performance

Alvin Lucier   

Alvin Lucier was born in 1931 in Nashua, New Hampshire. He was educated in Nashua parochial and public schools, The Portsmouth Abbey School, Yale and Brandeis, and spent two years in Rome on a Fulbright Scholarship. From 1962 to 1969 he taught at Brandeis where he conducted the Brandeis University Chamber Chorus which devoted much of its time to the performance of new music.

In 1966 he co-founded the Sonic Arts Union with composers Robert Ashley, David Behrman and Gordan Mumma, and from 1972 to 1979, was music director of the Viola Farber Dance Company. Since 1970, he has taught at Wesleyan University where he is currently John Spencer Camp Professor of Music.

Lucier has contributed many articles to books and periodicals, including Individuals: Post-Movement Art, edited by Alan Sondheim, E.P. Dutton; Criss-Cross; The Musical Quarterly; Parachute; Performance; Sonus, and Contiguous Lines, Issues and Ideas In The Music Of The 60'S and 70'S, edited by Thomas DeLio, University Press of America. His own book, Chambers, written in collaboration with Douglas Simon, was published by the Wesleyan University Press. In addition, several of his works are available on Cramps (Italy), Disques Montaigne, Elektra/Nonesuch, Source, Mainstream, CBS Odyssey, and Lovely Music Records.

Lucier is known for his pioneering work in many areas of music composition and performance, including the notation of performers' physical gestures (Action Music for Piano); the use of brain waves in live performance (Music for Solo Performer); the generation of visual imagery by sound in vibrating media (The Queen of the South); and the evocation of room acoustics for musical purposes (Vespers; I am Sitting in a Room). His recent works include a series of sound installations and works for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, and orchestra in which, by means of close tunings with pure tones, sound waves are caused to spin through space.

Lucier's sound installations include Seesaw, first exhibited at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, during the Winter of 1983-1984; Spinner, commissioned by Real Art Ways for permanent placement in Hartford, Connecticut; and Sound On Paper, part of the Writing on the Wall show at the Islip Art Museum, East Islip, New York, during the Fall of 1985. In the Fall of 1988, Wesleyan University presented a retrospective of several of his sound installations, including Chambers, Music on a Long Thin Wire, and Music for Pure Waves, Bass Drums, and Acoustic Pendulums.

Since 1982, Alvin Lucier has been devoting much of his time to composing works for traditional Western musical instruments. His orchestral work, Crossings, first performed by members of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra on the New Music America Festival '82 in Chicago, was given its New York premiere by the Brooklyn Philharmonic in January, 1984; his Serenade for Thirteen Winds and Pure Wave Oscillators, commissioned by the Fromm Music Foundation, was first performed at the Aspen Music Festival in August, 1985; and his Septet for Three Winds, Four Strings and Pure Wave Oscillator was composed for and performed on the inaugural concert of the New World Consort at Wesleyan University on September 20, 1985.

During the past several years, Lucier has composed a series of works, including Homage to James Tenney for solo double bass, written especially for the Tribute to James Tenney issue of Perspectives of New Music, Volume 23, Nos. 1&2, Winter 1987, Summer 1987; Kettles for five timpani and pure wave oscillators, premiered at the New Music America Festival, in Philadelphia, in October, 1987; and Fidelio Trio, for viola, cello and piano, commissioned by The Fidelio Trio and first performed by them on January 3, 1988, at the Old State House, Hartford. More recently, he finished Silver Streetcar For the Orchestra, a solo work for triangle, premiered by percussionist Brian Johnson on December 8, 1988, at New Music-America Miami, and Carbon Copies, a trio commissioned by Challenge (saxophonist Anthony Braxton, pianist David Rosenboom and percussionist William Winant), premiered at the trio's inaugural concert on April 1, 1989, at Mills College, Oakland, California.

In 1989, Lucier wrote Clackers and Swoopers, an outdoor work for sirens and blocks of wood, for the inauguration of William Chace, President of Wesleyan University, and Music for Snare Drum, Pure Wave Oscillator and One or More Reflective Surfaces for the Noble Snare Company. He also completed Music for Piano and Amplified Sonorous Vessels for pianist Margaret Leng Tan and Nothing is Real, an arrangement of a Beatles song for Aki Takahashi, commissioned by the Toshiba-EMI record company, Japan. Navigations for Strings was commissioned by the Hessischer Rundfunk for the Arditti Quartet. It received its first performance on October 11, 1991, in Frankfurt. More recently, Music for Gamelan Instruments was performed at the Yoygakarta Gamelan Festival in Indonesia and again on April 16, 1997, at Carnegie Hall, New York.

Lucier has collaborated with choreographer Douglas Dunn and sculptor David Ireland on Dances for Men, Women, and Moving Door, a full-length stage work presented in New York in June, 1986, and supplied music for Volcano Saga, a theater piece by Joan Jonas which was performed at Real Art Ways in Hartford in September of that year.

Alvin Lucier resided in Berlin for six months during the fall and winter of 1990-91, as a guest of the DAAD Kunstler Program. In January 1992, he performed in Delhi, Madras, and Bombay, and during the summer of that year was guest composer at the Time of Music Festival in Vitaasari, Finland. In October, 1992 Mr. Lucier made a two-week tour of Japan with pianist Aki Takahashi, for whom he wrote a new work, Music for Piano with Slow Sweep, Pure Wave Oscillators.

In October, 1994. Wesleyan University honored Lucier with a five-day festival, Alvin Lucier Collaborations, for which he composed twelve new works, including Theme, based on a poem by John Ashbery, and Skin, Meat, Bone, a collaborative theater work with Robert Wilson. In April, 1997, he presented a concert of his works on the Making Music Series at Carnegie Hall, New York.

Among Mr. Lucier's recent works are 40 Rooms, for five players with Lexicon Acoustic Reverberation System; and Small Waves for trombone, piano, string quartet with six amplified glass vases. His most recent sound installation, Empty Vessels, appeared in October, 1997, at the Donaueschingen Music Days, Germany. He is currently working on a piece for soprano with pure wave oscillators, commissioned by the Wadsworth Atheneum for the opening of an exhibition of the works of visual artist Lee Lozano, March 29, 1998.

In March 1995, Reflections/Reflexionen, a bi-lingual edition of Lucier's scores, interviews and writings was published by MusikTexte, Koln. In addition, Lovely Music Records has just issued Panorama, a compact disk containing four works for trombonist Roland Dahinden and pianist Hildegard Kleeb.

Lucier has collaborated with the S.E.M. Ensemble since 1993 when SEM performed a concert at the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York City on February 2, 1993, dedicated to Lucier's works. The program included Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra for amplified solo triangle, Four Solos from Part II Still and Moving Lines in Silence in Families of Hyperbolas for viola, flute, voice, marimba, and audio oscillators, and Sol 432 for oboe, trumpet, viola, cello, and audio oscillators, which was commissioned by SEM for this performance. In 1997, Lucier composed Sweepers for SEM, which the SEM Orchestra, Petr Kotik, conductor, premiered on May 15, 1997, Merkin Hall, New York. Diamonds, another work commissioned by and written for the S.E.M. Ensemble, will be premiered at the 1999 Prague Spring festival on May 21, 1999. This piece was written for three orchestras and will be featured on a program including other works for three orchestras and three conductors being performed by SEM and the Janacek Philharmonic of the Czech Republic.

Biography sourced from Ostrava Centre for New Music website

Alvin Lucier

Live Performance at Tate Modern