Alvin & the experimentals

Alvin Lucier comes to town as a Queen’s visiting artist and special guest for Tone Deaf 8

Alvin Lucier is no stranger to university campuses as a long-time university professor he has fostered many young musicians.
Alvin Lucier is no stranger to university campuses as a long-time university professor he has fostered many young musicians.
Nicolas Collins was one of Alvin Lucier’s students and will be showcased at Tone Deaf this year.
Nicolas Collins was one of Alvin Lucier’s students and will be showcased at Tone Deaf this year.

This year Tone Deaf 8 brings an experimental sound adventure to campus through the genius of experimental composer Alvin Lucier and some of his critically-acclaimed students.

Working with Modern Fuel Artist-Run Centre, Queen’s University and the Agnes Etherington Arts Center, the festival will include lectures, performances and visual art. With Lucier as their main focus the festival steps in a new direction.

Lucier, 73, hit it big in the 1960s riding the tripped-out experimental music wave and getting the opportunity to embark on a tour of the United States and Europe under the name The Sonic Arts Group.

“I’m excited about coming to Kingston and working within a great university,” Lucier said.

Lucier teaches music composition, an experimental music course, as well as a freshman course on the Orpheus Myth at Wesleyan University in Connecticut where he’s been teaching for over 30 years.

Lucier is scheduled to present his work both on and off campus—performing at the Sydenham St. United Church on Oct. 24 with two of his students, Nicolas Collins and Ben Manley, and giving a public lecture at Agnes Etherington on Oct. 25.

His style of music may not be aimed towards your average listener but Lucier said he strives to explore many of the natural characteristics of sound and sound waves.

“This includes echoes from pulse waves reflecting off walls, ceilings and floors; brain waves, vibrating wires … rather than simply writing for musical instruments,” he said.

The music doesn’t have a particular meaning behind it, he said.

“Each person discovers his or her own message,” Lucier said.

Much of Lucier’s work isolates single sounds and plays around with tone and synchronization for extended periods of time. His album, Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas, contains songs with only one key on a piano being played at a time.

Slow-moving and calm, Lucier’s music is highly experimental and fixates on echoes and vibrations rather than on the sound itself. His most famous composition, “I am Sitting in a Room,” involves Lucier sitting in a room recording and rerecording his voice over and over until his speech becomes so distorted by echoes that it becomes nonsensical.

“Junior high school science,” Lucier said, is the level at which he dissects sound. “I want to reveal the hidden aspects of sound; brain waves, echoes, beating patterns …”

Cast as a minimalist artist, Lucier was a leading pioneer in the development and popularization of experimental music.

Concentrating on the performative aspect of music with little scientific influence, Lucier explores the principle behind the music’s creation. His installations are what he uses to show listeners how sound functions. The apparatuses used to make his installations clearly show the different instruments involved in making sound and how different sounds change through echo and vibration.

Experimental sound festival Tone Deaf celebrates its eighth anniversary this week. In the past, Tone Deaf has showcased artists like Fighter/Lover from Toronto and Cities Turn to Sand, a local band.

Tone Deaf aims to promote music in Ontario, but isn’t afraid to look outside Canada to find inspiring artists like Lucier, Collins and Manley.

Lucier said he’s excited to be working with his former students, both of whom are well known experimental composers. “I need all the help I can get,” Lucier said. “Collins is an extremely skillful sound technician and composer. Manley ditto.” Collins and Manley will be playing on Oct. 23 at The Artel, also on Sydenham Street. They are working together to play a set called, “A Really Live Electronics Concert”.

Tone Deaf coordinator, Matt Rogalsky invited Lucier earlier this year making sure to book ahead of time. The festival is gaining a bigger following each year, and this year hopes to bring in people with a critical approach to understanding music.

Alvin Lucier will participate in a panel discussion at Agnes Etherington on Oct. 25. He will also be a guest artist in many humanities classes over the next week.

I Am Sitting in a Room

“I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but, more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.”

—An excerpt from Alvin Lucier’s best known work “I Am Sitting in a Room.”

Guide to Tone Deaf 8 2009

Who: Alvin Lucier and Ben Manley
What: Installation Works Reception
Music on a Long Thin Wire, The Queen Of The South
When: Tonight at 6 p.m.
Where: Modern Fuel Art Gallery, 21 Queen St.
Why: Tone Deaf is presenting a special focus on the eminent American composer of experimental music and sound installations, Alvin Lucier. Modern Fuel is featuring a week-long exhibition of two Lucier sound installation works. This reception marks the opening of the festival and boasts a great chance to encounter a master of contemporary music.
Cost: Free Admission

Who: Nicolas Collins and Ben Manley
What: A Really Live Electronics Concert
When: Tonight at 9 p.m.
Where: The Artel, 205 Sydenham Street
Why: Collins and Manley studied music at Connecticut’s Wesleyan University with Alvin Lucier. Manley presents provocative electro-acoustic performances and installations that call attention to interests in sonic potential and the imagination of sound energy. He explores the natural variability of wind, amplified small vibrations and resonating objects to generate dynamic musical environments. Collins worked for many years with electronic music pioneer David Tudor and has collaborated with numerous soloists and ensembles around the world. His sound is developed around homemade devices and hacking of everyday electronics such as CD players.
Cost: $5 for students, $10 general admisson

Who: Anne Bourne and Michel Sczcesniak
What: Two Portrait Concerts
When: Tomorrow at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Where: Sydenham St. United Church, 82 Sydenham St.
Why: Toronto cellist Anne Bourne and pianist Michel Sczcesniak will perform a selection of Lucier’s work. After experiencing some of Lucier’s poetic and evocative musical works through other aspects of Tone Deaf it will be invaluable to hear these musicians performing his work. Sydenham United is a beautifully-sized venue for such an event. There will be a reception and Q&A session with Lucier following the 4 p.m. concert.
Cost: $5 for students, $10 general admission

Who: Alvin Lucier, Nicolas Collins, Ben Manley, Anne Bourne, Clive Robertson and others
What: A day of discussion about the work of Alvin Lucier
When: Sunday, Oct. 25 at 3:30 p.m.
Where: Agnes Etherington Art Centre, University Ave. at Bader Lane
Why: A talk by Alvin Lucier that you won’t want to miss will commence at 11 a.m. followed by Collins’ discussion at 2 p.m. The panel discussion will begin at 3:30 offering an opportunity to better understand and contribute to a dialogue about these groundbreaking music and sound artists.
Cost: Free Admission

—Ally Hall

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