Alvin Lucier – Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas (Quiet Design)


Alvin Lucier’s work concerns itself with intense investigations into the nature of sound, functioning more as laboratory studies into auditory phenomena and the perception of hearing than as musical composition. These early duets for sinewave and tuned percussion find Lucier toying with the limitations of these instruments – their inability to perform microtonal pitches – and the relationship established between the two incongruous voices.

Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas of 1972 features four compositions, for sinewave and marimba, xylophone, glockenspiel and vibraphone respectively, which ask the performer – here Nick Hennies – to make precise adjustments to the rate of attack rather than changing the pitch. So the listener hears static sine tones over which rhythmic taps of percussion occur, becoming faster, slower, or stopping entirely. The effect of these shifts on our perception of the sine tone is where the drama lies: the flow seems to waver and shift, beating against our eardrums or becoming more streamlined, texturally changing from smooth to rough. At times it sounds like something on Raster Noton or Sahko, raindrop plinks of xylophone against a near-painful whine, or the sound of two ball-bearings clacking over a warm oscillating undertow. Submitting to these auditory effects can be a sublime experience.

Joshua Meggitt


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