Music for Solo Performer. Alvin Lucier
May 29th, 2010 – 17.00h. Korzo 5HOOG/Theaterzaal. Den Haag (The Netherlands)
Music for Solo Performer (1965) for amplified brain waves and percussion.
Performed by Alvin Lucier, Nicolas Collins and Anne Wellmer, with the cooperation of Royal Conservatory- and Royal Art Academy students: Michael Schunior, Alberto Novello, Juan Cantizzani, Auris Bavarkis, Pablo Sanz, Matteo Marangoni, Pepe Garcia / Slagwerkgroep Den Haag.
Listen to an extract from the performance here:
The idea for Music for Solo Performer (1965) came out of a conversation I had in 1964 with physicist Edmond Dewan. I was teaching at Brandeis at the time and Dewan, a devoted amateur organist, had come over to the Music Department eager to share his ideas and equipment with any composer interested in exploring this hitherto uncharted region. At that time Dewan was engaged in brain wave research for the Air Force. It was believed that slow propeller speeds were locking onto corresponding brain wave frequencies of aircraft pilots, causing dizziness and blackouts. I was not composing music during this time and needed a new idea. With nothing to lose I took Dewan up on his offer.
Working long hours alone in the Brandeis University Electronic Music Studio with Dewan’s equipment (two Tektronix Type 122 preamplifiers, one Model 330M Kronhite Bandpass Filter) I learned to produce alpha fairly consistently. I did not attempt any experiments in bio-feedback as such but was aware of the reinforcement of my own alpha-producing ability while monitoring in real-time the sounds that came out of the studio loudspeakers. As I was generating alpha in the Brandeis studio I was struck by the violent movement of the cones of the acoustic suspension loudspeakers that were moving in and out rapidly with large excursions. I realized that the loudspeakers were capable of doing physical work, not just reproducing sounds.
From the beginning, I was determined to make a live performance work despite the delicate uncertainty of the equipment, difficult to handle even under controlled laboratory conditions. I realized the value of the EEG situation as a theatrical element and knew from experience that live performances were more interesting than recorded ones. I was also touched by the image of the immobile if not paralyzed human being who, be merely changing states of visual attention, could communicate with a configuration of electronic equipment with what appears to be power from a spiritual realm. I found the alpha’s quiet thunder extremely beautiful and, instead of spoiling in by processing, chose to use it as an active force in the same way one uses the power of a river.
In designing the work I decided to use alpha to resonate a large battery of percussion instruments, including cymbals, gongs, bass drums, timpani, and snare drums. In most cases, it was necessary physically to couple the loudspeaker to the instrument, although in the case of highly resonant bass drums and timpani, the loudspeaker could be place an inch or so away from the drumhead.
Music for Solo Performer was first performed on May 5, 1965 at the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, with the encouragement and participation of John Cage. I sat on a landing between the two floors of the Museum, electrodes attached to my scalp. The mono output of the alpha amplifiers was routed to the inputs of 8 home stereo amplifiers, the outputs of which were sent to 16 loudspeaker-percussion pairs deployed around the Museum. During the course of the 40-minute performance Cage randomly raised and lowered the stereo amplifiers’ volume controls channeling the alpha signal to various instruments around the room.
In 1982 two versions of Music for Solo Performer were released on Lovely Music LP VR 1014. On Side A the composer superimposed eight pairs of Western Classical percussion instruments, as well as a cardboard box and a metal trash can. On Side B Pauline Oliveros recorded four versions, each with a separate World Music percussion orchestra. For that version composer Nicolas Collins designed a number of voltage-controlled solenoids that were used as electric drumsticks to play various small drums and gongs.
This recording of Music for Solo Performer was produced under the supervision of Wesleyan Professor of Music Ron Kuivila with the assistance of Graduate Students Ivan Naranjo and Phillip Schulze and Undergraduate Forrest Leslie, at the Wesleyan University Experimental Music Studio, on December 8 and 9, 2007.
These recordings were mastered by Tom Hamilton.
Alvin Lucier 2010
This text has been reprinted in the book “Everything is Real”, published by TAG publishing, The Hague 2010.
I am sitting in a room / Everything is real. Concert and lecture by Alvin Lucier
May 30th, 14.00h. Royal Conservatory. Den Haag (The Netherlands)
Listen to the lecture here:
Alvin Lucier in Den Haag was initiated and curated by Anne Wellmer