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.)

Winter & Winter Sale and Little Trumpet Tales

You’ve only got a few days: Distributor Allegro Music has Winter & Winter discs on sale until April 12.

The CDs are 25% off, which puts them at about normal prices. (Being from Germany, Winter & Winter tends to go for import prices over here.)  You can see the catalog at the link above.

This is your chance to stock up on the old JMT catalog — home to Tim Berne’s Bloodcount among other great artists. For those who arrive here by searching for Jim Black’s Alas No Axis and their album Houseplant, here’s a chance to pick it up.

Speaking of the JMT catalog… buried in there is an obscure rarity worth looking up. It’s from Stefan Winter, proprietor of both JMT and Winter & Winter, and it’s called The Little Trumpet.

It’s a kids’ story that reminds me of The Point, a ’70s animated TV special.  The Point was sweet, unforgettable, and — by the standards of a wide-eyed 5-year-old — epic, drawn in sparse blank landscapes in a simplicity that made the story that much richer. For years, it was quested after by geeks and nerds on Usenet, back in the early ’90s when that meant something useful, and with good reason — The Point didn’t air that many times, yet it obviously touched the hearts of the kids who saw it.

Anyway — The Little Trumpet, about a land where the musical instruments are held captive, has the same kind of innocent charm and the same kind of hero’s journey. The story warms the heart, and the music is played by Stefan’s A-squad: Herb Robertson, Robin Eubanks, and Bill Frisell.

Back to Winter & Winter… It’s true that you can also get their output, for substantially cheaper, at eMusic. Nothing wrong with that. But if you like the physical form of a CD, and if you appreciate the thick packaging that Winter & Winter uses, here’s your chance to grab a couple of souvenirs.

(I don’t have any commercial ties to Winter & Winter. They don’t know I exist, and I’m getting no benefit from typing this other than the satisfaction of blathering into the ether.)

Music and Things

Did I just go through my longest stretch yet without a blog post?  I hope so, because I’d hate to think there had ever been a longer one in there…

Various factors including work and, yes, the start of baseball season have curtailed my music listening lately. I should have kept being a good blogger, typing one or two sentences a day and hitting PUBLISH just for the sake of keeping up appearances. Instead, I’m gonna do all those missives at once, right here.


* It was great to see Lisa Mezzacappa’s Bait & Switch play to a packed house at Yoshi’s on Monday, March 28. A packed lower section anyway — fullest I’ve ever seen it. For the first time, I had to be ushered to a seat, sharing a close-quarters table with strangers. Lots of great music, including a new song in the vein of the album Air Lore (by Air, the Threadgill/Hopkins/McCall trio) — meaning, an inside/outy jazz tune derived from old, old-timey jazz. They also played “Evil Bohemian” from Go-Go Fightmaster, a band that has exactly the same people but a different mission.

* Breaks my heart, but tonight, I’m missing an sfSound performance of part of Einstein on the Beach.  It’s at Amnesia, a friendly San Francisco bar that houses weekly jazz (hot club style, that is).  Would have loved to support the cause.

* My previous blog post mentions The Lost Trio playing at the Ivy Room weekly. Apparently, that’s ending as of right about now. Crud. Keep an eye out for other good (and probably free) creative music there, though.

* Cardiacs music continues to impress. I’m starting to understand how some people could be so viciously opposed to the band. One possibility: Tim Smith’s chord progressions often go intentionally out of tune (a C major to an A major seems to be a favorite leap), creating a sound like a warped record or a warbly circus act. It rocks, but if you’re not buying into the band’s premise, I can see how it might grate. I don’t care. These guys are awesome, and you should attend the May 8 Cardiacs tribute (and Tim Smith benefit) at Cafe Du Nord in San Francisco. It’s a good cause.

* More Cardiacs: There’s a Tim Smith tribute/benefit album, Leader of the Starry Skies, available at thegenepool.co.uk. It’s very cool, if melancholy; most artists seemed to either pick the sadder songs or do sadder versions of the songs. Best-of-set, at first listen, goes to prog band Knifeworld, which includes former Cardiac co-guitarist Kavus Torabi.

* I mainly knew of guitarist Antoine Berthiaume through his times recording with Fred Frith. Then, one year, he surprised me by releasing a fairly straight jazz album. Now he’s doubly surprised me with a fairly straight country/folk instrumental album called Small Tease. Engaging and breezy stuff.

Thanks to those of you who actually keep tuning in here. I’m not gone, or done, just flaky. It’ll pass.