October 11th, 2005


Thirty three and a third

I unreservedly recommend Alvin Lucier live on Resonance FM's Unst. The veteran composer (do we call him "a member of the Darmstadt School"?) made a completely new, live-in-the-studio version of "I Am Sitting in a Room", in which recordings of recordings of his speaking voice are played back until all that remains are the resonant frequencies of the room. Speech thus turns, before our very ears, into music. It's an exemplary piece, and justly famous. The new version has a different text and uses digital technology and Resonance's own room, so there's a sharp, whistly texture as the speech decays, not the more organic woolly sound of analogue tape. It's also interesting to hear in the interview sections that Lucier has a suppressed stammer, making the kind of ordinary consecutive speech he does in his most famous piece seem somewhat miraculous.

Other than the live performance, Lucier plays a couple of his more recent compositions off CD, a lovely piece for piano and slow-sweep pure wave oscillators dating from 1992, "Still Lives", and "Exploring the House", seven phrases selected from a Beethoven symphony and run through a Max filter which apes the "sitting in a room" effect. The piano pieces, musical studies of sunlight entering a room, floor tiles and ferns, made me think of the photographs of Rinko Kawauchi. The Beethoven piece brought to mind my own piece "The Artist Overwhelmed", which fatigues classical music chords in a similar way, to similar effect. I wondered again why The Wire simply refuses to review my records, when, quite independently, I'm doing stuff that parallels what Lucier's doing, and they love and cover him.

Yesterday I received a package from Continuum Books in New York, containing four titles from their series 33/3: Hugo Wilcken's book on David Bowie's "Low" (excellent, I've already devoured half of it), Joe Pernice's book on "Meat Is Murder", "Dusty In Memphis" by Warren Zanes, and "The Kinks Are The Village Green Preservation Society" by my old friend Andy Miller. Observant readers of Click Opera will have noticed that last week Wendy from Continuum left a comment asking me to pitch a book-about-a-record for the series. I sent a rather grumpy letter from Venice saying I resist the culture of canons and classics and would probably pick ultra-obscure, prickly, "failed" records like Colin Newman's A-Z or Palais Schaumburg's first album. But then I decided that it would be fun to write a book about Laurie Anderson's "Big Science", and made a serious pitch to series editor David Barker to that effect. David seemed moderately enthusiastic (although I think he's more of a guitar bands man) and will pick a handful of books to commission from dozens of pitches early next month.

(NB skimmers and visual culture people: The book on the right does not exist and may never exist. The cover is a mock-up.)