Alvin Lucier (1931, -) is a major American composer. He pioneered areas of sound art such as using brain waves in live performances, tracking performers physical gesture by notations, creating visual imagery by sound, using room acoustic as a sound device. The dimension of Lucier experimentalism was based on actual physical and not only conceptual validation. The listener is offered both an intellectually engaging and physical experience.
“Music On A Long Thin Wire” is a sound and installation piece conceived in 1977 and repeatedly staged thereafter. A single piano wire (originally three- to four-foot-long, then lenghtened over the course of other performances) is stretched between bridges at either end. Both ends of the wire are connected to an amplifier, driving the wire with a sine wave oscillator. A horseshoe magnet is placed around the wire. When the wire is electrified, its current interacts with the magnetic field and the vibrations are picked up by microphones connected to the bridges. The resulting sound is controlled by a performer who control the sine wave oscillator inducing sonic phenomena as “nodal shifts, echo trains, noisy overdrivings”.
The composer explains that this piece was born out of “an interest in the poetry of what we used to think of as science.” “I always thought” (he further states) “that the world was divided into two kinds of people, poets and practical people, and that while the practical people ran the world, poets had visions about it…. Now I realize that there is no difference between science and art.”
Specific to this piece is the fact that the observer can watch the sound as he listens to it. As the wire is lighted by the performer, its physical waveforms inducing sound appear in front of the public’s eyes.
Click here to watch a video of a recording of the sound piece.
Here’s another video with a reconstruction of the piece:
No ideas but in things. The music of Alvin Lucier. A film by Viola Rusche and Hauke Harder
Per Bloland. The electromagnetically-prepared piano and its compositional implications – Stanford university
Mainframe Experimentalism. Early computing and the foundations of the digital arts. Edited by Hannah B. Higgins and Douglas Kahn.
Red Thunder Audio // Ezra Teboul “Music On A Long Thin Wire”
Hommage to Alvin Lucier @ Saint Merry, Paris
Alvin Lucier & Friends concert (Friday, September 15, 2006 at Old Cabell Hall, University of Virginia) booklet
Warren Burt. Musical Perception and Exploratory Music (excerpt)
Reflection on process in sound. Issue 1, autumn 2012. Alvin Lucier interviewed by Louise K. Wilson.
Alvin Lucier on “Music On A Long Thin Wire” interview by Jason Gross (April 2000)
Alvin Lucier. REFLECTIONS. Interview, Scores, Writings 1965–1994. Musiktexte Verlag
Thanks to Maxime Guitton