POGUS POGUS Is Watching You!
Alvin Lucier - Still and Moving Lines - Reviews

Alvin Lucier - Still and Moving LinesThe Australian ensemble Decibel specializes in performing new music integrating electronics with acoustic instruments. In this new release from Pogus the group presents engaging realizations of four works by composer Alvin Lucier, three of which are here given their recorded debut. The four compositions, all recorded live in Perth, span the years 1967-2002, with the most recent—Ever Present, the first track on the disc—being the only one to have appeared on a previous recording. The works are well-chosen and provide an excellent point of entry to Lucier’s oeuvre. 

As a program opener, Ever Present pulls the listener immediately into Lucier’s hermetic sound world. Performed with flute, saxophone, piano and two sine wave generators, the piece creates an absorbing atmosphere of slow movement over a fundamental drone, the relatively short duration of the piano’s occasional notes contrasting with the held tones from the wind instruments. The piece has a horizontal rather than a vertical profile, which is to say that the tones of the various instruments are experienced as independent entities rather than as linked elements stacked into a single harmony. If slowly shifting and superimposed transparent planes of color made a sound, this would be it.

Carbon Copies (1989), also featuring saxophone, flute and piano but with recorded sound in place of the sine wave generators, takes us from Ever Present’s rarefied abstraction down to the mundane world captured in the field recordings that constitute its core. The piece has a tripartite structure, beginning with the playback of field recordings alone, which are then joined by the instruments. The third and final part eliminates the recordings, to leave the instruments by themselves. The piano and wind instruments’ contributions run to the timbral and episodic as the players set out to interpret the recorded sounds as mimetically as they can. In effect the field recordings serve as a kind of real-time, aural score for the musicians to realize. 

Hands (1994) is a work for organ and hand movements, the latter being used in relation to the organ pipes in order to affect the sound emitted while sustained semitones are played. The dissonance of these minor second harmonies creates beats, trills and a generally unsettled sonic tension, while the hand movements coax slow, sometimes siren-like glissandi as well as changes in dynamics from the instrument. 

The disc closes with the earliest composed work, Shelter (1967) for contact microphones, amplifiers, and enclosed space. The piece offers a commentary on the division of sonic space by architectural space by conveying sounds originating from outside the performance space—the “shelter” of the title—to a system of amplifiers, equalizers and speakers inside it. Contact microphones placed on structural supports enclosing the space pick up external sound as it vibrates through doors and walls and transmit it to the audio system. The present realization captures a quiet sound much like the background hum of a refrigerator or HVAC unit punctuated by what appear to be the sounds of musicians playing in distant rooms. 

Highly recommended. -  D. Barbiero, Avant Music News

Alvin Lucier somehow manages to come up with compositions that have such a personal singleness of purpose that they may exasperate you at first. But the more you listen, the more you cannot forget them. You even at the end like them, or I usually do, but as part of a process. I remember buying his two-LP set years ago, Music On A Long Thin Wire. I was not a very patient person then. Life was something I had to "do" at that point, the more quickly, the better. That music was oh, so slowly moving that I could not at that time bear it. Only later, in fact only in the last 10 years when it was available on CD did I come to appreciate it a great deal.

Now I am not saying that you are going to feel the same way about the group Decibel's performance of four Lucier works, on the CD Still and Moving Lines (Pogus 21072-2). I don't think exasperation will be your reaction, even the first time out. In fact you may well find the works more readily accessible like I did. That may have something to do with the very sympathetic reading that Decibel gives them. They are a Perth, Australia based new music ensemble that favors works that combine acoustic instruments, electronics and the incorporation of the environment into performances. And it just so happens that the four Lucier works do all of that in varying degrees.

Perhaps the more difficult work is "Shelter" (1967) for vibration pickups, amplification system and enclosed space. They use the auditorium of an Australian music conservatory, placing pickups on walls, doors, etc., that receive everyday, typical sound vibrations coming from outside the auditorium and then generate the external-internal filtering and amplification of those sounds into the auditorium via loudspeakers. This is an example of Lucier's more experimental period and the sounds are fascinating but do take some getting used to.

On the other hand, his "Ever Present" (2002) for flute, saxophone and piano with slow sweep pure wave oscillator is much more readily grasped. The combination of instrumental parts and the ever changing pitch of the oscillator has a somewhat more conventional "new music" sound to it and it is masterfully performed.

"Hands" (1994) and "Carbon Copies" (1989) are somewhere in between the two extremes, but generally have that sustained performative rigor (and vigor) that define the best of instrumental Lucier.

It is surely something to do with the talent and sensitivity of Decibel that these works are so communicative. But of course, again, these are some excellent Lucier works covering a wide span of time.

If you want to experience Alvin Lucier and why he remains so central and vibrant to the new music scene, this is a great place to start. It definitely is up among his very best. - Grego Applegate-Edwards, Gapplegate Classical-Modern Music Review

This album is unfortunately named on two accounts.  First of all, there are at least 13 other recording artists that have used the name Decibel.  Second, there is an earlier release by Alvin Lucier called "Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas".  While it would be interesting to hear the Mexican avant-prog group Decibel performing that early work by Lucier, what we have instead are first recordings of Lucier pieces by an Australian group.

In the later years of Lucier's compositional catalog, he seems to have fallen into a rut.  Over and over again there are pieces written for acoustic instruments and sine waves.  I can only guess it was an easy way out of writing commissions for varying instrumental ensembles.  But it lacks the variety of sonic situations that made him such an important figure in the 1960s and 1970s.  This CD is almost predictably opens with "Ever Present" (2002) for flute, saxophone and piano with slow sweep pure wave oscillator.  Despite my grumbling, it still does result in a lovely piece.  The spacious isolation of notes makes me think of the later Cage compositions, although the performance also has a tint of Feldman's melancholy.

From here the pieces thankfully become more diverse.  "Carbon Copies" (1989) for saxophone, piano, flute and playback uses performer made environmental recordings as a pattern for action.  The composition dictates four sections.  The first is the environmental recording alone.  The second brings in the instrumentalists who are attempting to copy what they hear on their recording.  The third repeats this except that the original environmental recordings are only heard by the instrumentalist and not in the final mix.  And finally after this work up, the instrumentalists play from from a memory of that initial recording.  The results evoke a comparison with AMM for me.  It could be the stabs of piano drawing to mind John Tilbury, but more likely it is the glacial sense of movement as both of the wind instruments focus on continuous sounds to mimic the ambient recording.  So the version here is rather low key, which is in keeping with the overall timbre of the disc.  It would be interesting to hear a recording of "Carbon Copies" by Challenge, the group that originally commissioned this piece, as a line up including Anthony Braxton, David Rosenboom, and William Winant would probably be very lively and quite a contrast to this.

Drawing closer to stasis is "Hands" (1984) for organ with four players which preoccupies itself with subtle harmonic variances created by playing adjacent semitones in the midst of a large drone of sustained sound.  The motion reminds me a little of the drone at the heart of Jon Gibson's "Visitations".

But it is the closing piece on the disc, "Shelter" (1969) for vibration pickups, amplification system and enclosed space, which I feel is the most beautiful inclusion on the disc.  The piece is simple and poetic and the results reflect this.  Contact microphones are placed on the walls and doors of an auditorium.  These pick up the subtle vibrations from the surrounding environment, including other musicians rehearsing elsewhere in the music conservatory, filtered through the substance of the room.  The results are ghostly as the sounds are softened and seem to float through.

Overall this is quite an enjoyable, peaceful and meditative listen, and perhaps a stand out among recent CDs of Lucier's music.  The recording quality is crisp which is important in a music where the highlights are found in the tiny details.

The packaging is a smartly designed black and white poster folded down to a square of about 5.75".  So it will annoyingly not fit in with your other CDs.  I can appreciate the dislike of jewel cases, but it is nice to have something with a spine that I can easily file to find again. - Eric, Bixobal

The overwhelming feeling that comes from Still and Moving Lines, a new Pogus disc featuring four compositions by Alvin Lucier performed by the Australian new music ensemble Decibel, is that it is an exercise in listening. It invites you to explore the world sonically beyond the immediate aural experiences normally presented to you. By challenging and subverting listening conventions, these pieces of music open up minds and ears to push the listener into deeper realms of sonic perception.

The first piece on the disc, Ever Present, places a flute, saxophone, and piano with a slow sweep pure wave oscillator. The two sine wave generators interact with each other across the piece while the acoustic instruments resonate perfectly in places and provide contrast in others. As the electronic sounds decay and meld into one another, the instrumental sounds momentarily overtake them and come to the fore like the crest of the wave. All the pieces on Still and Moving Lines make you more aware of the external sonic world, but Ever Present also opens you up to how you receive the pieces physically. The waves flowing from the oscillators tingle your brain while the interjecting piano stirs deep in your chest.

Carbon Copies invites the players to create recordings of the environments that they are in and imitate them. In this version, we hear domestic duties, a hotel, a commute, and a house monitor. The inspiration for this piece was the ability of animals to imitate their surroundings to survive. Listening to Carbon Copies for the first time this week was extremely timely for me. While arguably not as crucial to my survival, the ideas in this piece mirror what I’ve noticed in my recent travels. When walking down a New York street earlier in the week I heard the most amazing Brooklyn accent and immediately copied it, repeating the uttered phrase until I had the sounds just right…(ish). The flipside happened to me on the flight over from London when the air steward revelled in my pronunciation of the word “water” (however to me it sounded more like he was imitating Mary Poppins). For the players, the air steward, and myself, imitating the sounds enabled us to explore particular sounds further—breaking down the composite parts and building them back together on our own.

The third piece on the disc, Hands, features four players on one electric chamber organ. Each of the players uses hand movements on the pipes while the keyboard is used to provide a sense of harmony. Sounds from both ends of the spectrum weave in and out of one another, seemingly at odds at points but in harmony at others. At times Hands is both calming and alarming, with the harmonic points creating familiarity in juxtaposition to the otherworldly feel that is also present.

Listening to Shelter, the final track on the disc, is like turning your chair around and eavesdropping on the world outside of the concert hall. Here, Lucier subverts normal listening conventions and instead of the concert hall walls acting as barriers to keep the sounds in, they become speakers for the world outside. This version of Shelter takes place in a performance space in a music conservatorium. The rehearsing musicians, air conditioning, and electrical buzzing outside the performance space become the piece as contact microphones pick up their sounds. These are then equalized and amplified and played back in to the room. Shelter presents us with the world we almost missed; the walls become the filters for what was not heard, amplifying all those seemingly negligible sounds.

Each of the four tracks of Still and Moving Lines focuses upon a different area of aural perception, extending the way you listen. After hearing it all, it’s hard not to notice the vast sonic world around you, much like having your ears cleaned.  - Kealy Cozens, New Music Box
CAUTION: Listening to POGUS CD's may cause you to become one with the universe (or at least your immediate environment)
Unless otherwise noted, all content © 2000 - 2005 Pogus Productions  ::  Design by Family Design Group