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.)

That Low Droney Feeling

Stuart Dempster, Tom Heasley, Eric Glick Reiman — Echoes of Syros (Full Bleed, 2009)

What the heck is “prepared electric piano?”

The sound, as played by Eric Glick Rieman, is analogous to a prepared piano: lots of percussive clacking, the sound of a wood block or similar object sitting atop the strings.  Except a Rhodes has no strings. Hm.

However it’s done — a simple matter of programming new sounds, maybe? — Rieman uses it to interesting effect on Echoes of Syros.  He’s got that wood-block sound down, and also produces metallic, ringing tones — the tapping of a Buddhist metal bowl at the start of “Celestial,” or chattery, tuneless wood chimes on “The Chimaera,” or elsewhere, a ringing metallic clanging with fading reverb.

Echoes of Syros came out of a 72-minute improvisation at 21 Grand, which the trio thought was solid enough to be presented on CD.  They’ve excerpted about 54 minutes of the best slices.

It starts with the expansive, 34-minute title track — and this is where Tom Heasley really does his thing. Heasley plays tuba enhanced with electronics, creating ambient washes of sound, colorful clouds passing over at sunrise.  Here, he kicks things off with a drone of several minutes, setting up the loops that will be the foundation of this whole segment.  It starts off dark and a bit stormy, but by the halfway point, the background tuba drone has lightened up to a relaxing multitone.

It’s in the second half that Stuart Dempster and Rieman really make themselves known, Dempster trying a variety of instruments including didgeridoo and possibly his signature trombone.  But it’s Heasley’s sound that frames the whole piece.

The other three tracks are shorter excursions that feature the players’ individuality more.  “The Chimaera” pits Dempster on conch shell against Heasley’s tuba.  “Celestial,” as mentioned before, gives more weight to Rieman’s percussive sounds.

It’s mostly mesmerizing stuff.  “Interzone” takes a break for a noisier, more clattery interlude.  and late in “The Chimaera,” as Heasley’s tuba echoes beging building up, Dempster starts going nuts with some kind of squeaky, high-pitched toy that he’s breathing through (possibly the garden hose mentioned in the credits?)

For another look: Read Caleb Deupree‘s  review in