Friday, May 8, 2009

Hommage to Alvin Lucier @ Saint Merry

stage being set up for the Alvin Lucier performance @ Saint Merry

Last Saturday there was a very interesting music/performance/science experiment at Saint Merri, this time celebrating Alvin Lucier.

Two pieces were presented, Music for Solo Performer (from 1965) which is a performance for enormously amplified brain waves and percussion and Music on a Long Thin Wire (from 1977) which is a sound installation for audio oscillator and electronic monochord.

Alvin Lucier was an american composer and music professor who was most famous for his more experimental compositions. His performances were sonic science experiments as much as musical experiences, often creating relatively simple sounds and allowing them to forge a life of their own within the performance space.

The prelude to Music for Solo Performer was as entertaining, and almost as long, as the performance itself. The audience arrived for the scheduled start of the evening's performance and were treated to the artists still preparing the event, with a selection of percussion instruments spread across the stage.

Music for Solo Performer @ Saint Merry

Each of these was to be triggered by EEG electrodes attached to an artist's scalp (which we also witnessed being applied). The EEG machine (lent to the performers for the evening by a local hospital) detected bursts of alpha waves generated when the wired artist achieves a meditative, non-visual brain state. These alpha waves are then amplified and the resulting electrical signal is used to vibrate the various percussion instruments distributed around the performance space.

It really was as much a piece of science and theatre as a musical performance, with the rattling of plastic, metal, wood and water attached to or spread across the other end of the EEG machine creating something more akin to a clatter than anything resembling rhythm or melody, but it was a much appreciated and very entertaining performance which I enjoyed immensely.

It was then time for the artists to clear the percussion instruments and EEG machine from the stage and to set up the next piece. But this provided an opportunity to wander through Saint Merry, with only the distant glow of the lights from the stage and the nearby candles with the early evening light filtering through the stained glass windows.

Saint Merry at night

For the performance of Music on a Long Thin Wire a 50(?) foot length of wire was strung across a section of the church and activated by an amplified oscillator and magnets on either end, producing changing overtones and sounds. The wave of the tone created was changing quite subtley during the performance and as we moved around the cavernous space of Saint Merry the quality of the sounds changed further.


As the artist adjusted the modulation settings on his effect pedal, and also fully stabilised the slightly off-balance table to which one end of the wire was attached, this in turn impacted the tonal quality of the single note being generated. This note continued to feed off itself within the various cavernous areas of the large church.

It was another very interesting performance at the beautiful Saint Merry, but sadly we had a very early start the next morning as we had to catch the eurostar to London.

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