Alvin Lucier, 90, American Avant-Garde Composer Passed Away

Posted by Mike Schumacher

Alvin Lucier, a composer whose investigations into the physical qualities of sound established him as a key figure in the US avant-garde, has died at the age of 90.

According to the New York Times, his daughter said that difficulties after a fall were the reason. “The great Alvin Lucier has died,” his ex-wife Mary Lucier wrote. “Alvin Lucier, long live.”

Lucier, who was born in New Hampshire in 1931, had a high musical education at Yale and later Brandeis colleges before pursuing a Fulbright scholarship to Rome. After seeing a concert there in 1960 with John Cage, David Tudor, and Merce Cunningham, who were investigating the creative potential of chance, his classical training was broadened.

It influenced Lucier’s use of technologies such as brain sensors and echolocation to produce audio outputs, which served to shape a highly progressive style of composition. He looked at the strength of sound waves and how they were placed in relation to one another, as well as the acoustics and design of the performance venue.

I Am Sitting in a Room (1969), for example, opens with Lucier declaring, “I am sitting in a room other than the one you are in right now.” I’m going to capture the sound of my speaking voice and play it back into the room again and over until the room’s resonance frequencies reinforce themselves, obliterating all trace of my speech, with the exception of rhythm.”

The voice is then recorded, played again, and re-recorded, and the process is continued until the syllables blur into the resonant frequencies.

Music on a Long Thin Wire, from 1977, is another well-known work in which a wire is stretched across a space, with contact mics and other devices taking up vibrations and producing music. After the installation, Lucier left the near-sculptural setup alone, including a five-day performance at an Albuquerque commercial mall.

“Fatigue, air currents, heating and cooling, even human proximity could cause the wire to undergo enormous changes,” he noted, exemplifying how his music was based on unpredictably changing conditions in the local area.

He continued to write while teaching at Wesleyan University, where he had joined the faculty in 1970.

These experimental compositions have a worldwide impact on leftfield music, with artists as diverse as Holly Herndon, clipping, David Grubbs, and Richard Youngs expressing respect to Lucier on social media.

Lucier is survived by his wife Wendy Stokes and daughter Amanda.

Thanks to at The Guardian whose reporting provided the original basis for this story.

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