Archive for April 9, 2011

The Wire. The WIRE.

If you go to sfSound Radio right now (“now” meaning before April 13), you’ll get to hear part of the five-day performance of Alvin Lucier‘s “Music on a Long Thin Wire.”

It’s being “performed” by Tom Duff, although really, the performer is the wire itself.

Wikipedia has the instructions for the piece. The basic idea is that a taut wire is set to vibrating, and the piece consists of the resulting sounds. What you get is a varying drone. Air currents, temperature changes, footfalls that slightly shift the wire’s endpoints (if the wire is anchored to two tables, as in the description) — all these elements can shift the sound.

Lucier tried the piece with human intervention involved, letting musicians “play” the wire by adjusting the oscillator, but he never liked the results. He decided it worked better if the wire was left alone, a sculpture/installation varying with its surroundings. (Read his thoughts at Perfect Sound Forever.)

So it seems “Music on a Long Thin Wire” is best experienced not as a concert, but as a standing piece allowed to run for a long period of time. A five-day version was performed at an Albuquerque shopping center, broadcast by KUNM, back in 1979 — and now we have Duff’s version, happening through April 12.

The recorded version of the piece, on the label Lovely Music, comes across very sine wavey. Duff’s installation, by contrast, sounds very wirey, with the twang of metal windings. It’s like a didgeridoo player who never runs out of breath, or a bassist bowing an open string endlessly.

Here’s an excerpt of another performance, possibly the Lovely Music one, posted to YouTube:

You can find a lot of performance examples around the Web, but I liked the way this one tells a little of the story, so to speak. It’s a 6-minute excerpt that demonstrates some of the abrupt changes possible in the piece.

If you actually want to own “Music on a Long Thin Wire,” you can download the Lovely version at eMusic. Or, take Lucier’s instructions and build your own.

(The photo up top is a 2008 vertical installation inspired by Lucier, but I don’t think they actually performed on it. It’s a long, thin wire stretched up the center of a spiral staircase. Photo taken from the Disquiet blog.)

April 9, 2011 at 9:47 am Leave a comment


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