Perfect Sound Forever


Alvin Lucier on  "Music On A Long Thin Wire"
interview by Jason Gross
(April 2000)

Q: What are your thoughts on the piece, looking back at it today?

I just installed it in Germany in a big church high above the audience in the altar.  It was very long- I don't know how many meters.  It just sounded wonderful, better than almost I've ever heard.  Do I think it stands up over time?  I think it does.

It's got this other-worldly quality about it.  I can't see the wire very well.  You can if it's installed in a gallery, three or four feet above the ground.  We had it installed high above a church and you could barely see it, depending on the light that came in during the day or the lighting at night.  This quality, this amazing sound which is always moving, always changing, you don't see how it's produced but you know it isn't on tape.  It doesn't have that lifeless quality of sounds on tape.  You know, the live organism.

Q: Could you talk about the genesis of the original piece?

I was sharing an acoustics class here at Wesleyn with a physics instructor.  We were doing the Pythagorian experiment with a monochord on a table.  We had an electro-magnet that was driving the string and an oscillator.  It was sort of a cut-and-dry sound experiment.  I just got the idea to extend that in size- to have an really extraordinary long wire would really generate something amazing.  When I started making the piece, I just didn't bother to do any analysis or learning about the wire tension, mass and weight.  I just set it up between a couple of tables and discovered that the imperfection of the way it was installed made a very interesting and wonderful sound.  It was always changing.  That's the interesting thing about it- it isn't fixed like a string on a piano.  It's subject to all kind of internal and external things.

I started it as a performance piece.  I thought it should be performed like a big guitar string with players and myself and improvisation where people would play oscillated pitches into the wire.  It never really worked very well.  It always started in interestingly and spectactularly with the sweeps and slides and so forth.  Then it sort of developed into a wishy-washy improvisation kind of thing.  So when I decided to tune it in a sculptural and non-performance way but chose a tuning with a single oscillator and then just let it go by itself, then the piece took on a magical quality.  No one was intending to make it sound any way.  It was just sounding by itself.  It feels like a natural phenomenon.

Q: How does this fit into your work overall?

It's an integral and important part because it's a good example of my interest in exploring natural characteristics of sound waves.  It's a simple, essential exploration of the Pythagorian string that's so long that it starts from that idea but it takes it out of that scientific realm into a more imaginative realm.  It's one of the major pieces that I think I made.  It's an essential piece, describing most of the work that I've done.

NOTE: Music On A Long Thin Wire is available from Lovely Music

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