Is Your Favorite Christmas Song Lawful?

Alvin Lucier: Some spatial characteristics of sound waves

Last night, in Grant Recital Hall, a cellist held one continuous note for over 10 minutes. Written down in black and white, that doesn’t seem it would be that much of a feat, but to see it performed live was intensely mesmerizing.

One woman, Laura Cetilia, sat with her cello in front of several glass vases. These vases, suspended above the ground, contained microphones tuned to pick up various frequencies emitted from her instrument. As the piece progressed, I realized she was not holding one pitch, but continually adjusting the pitch slowly enough that it was hardly distinguishable. Occasionally, she was accompanied by the wave of another sound caused from just the right frequency being captured by one of the glass vases.  I broke my stare to survey the room and found I wasn’t alone in my trance. There were only a few empty seats in the hall, and zero people checking their cell phones.

Alvin_Lucier._Photo_by_Bob_Antaramian_1600_1073_90

This performance was part of the Colloquium series sponsored by the Multimedia and Electronic Music Experiments (MEME) department here at Brown. It was followed by a talk and Q&A with Alvin Lucier, the composer who wrote Music for Cello with One or More Amplified Vases and several other famous pieces that explore the physical and structural nature of sound.

Lucier has taught at Brown twice, but is known mostly in academia for his 43-year-long career at Wesleyan. As he spoke about the process and intent for the creation of his work, he name-dropped several musical pioneers as collaborators and friends. Among them: John Cage, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich. (No sweat if those names aren’t familiar, but I cannot recommend MUSC0200 enough if you want to find out who they are.)  Continue Reading