Alvin Lucier »Wave Songs« (1998)

for female voice with pure wave oscillators

for female voice with pure wave oscillators
for female voice with pure wave oscillators

German premiere. Voice: Núria Cunillera Salas; sound engineer: Sebastian Schottke

Alvin Lucier's »Wave Songs« are eleven solos for female voice and two pure wave oscillators written at the request of Andrea Miller-Killer, Shelly Casto, and James Rondeau on the occasion of Lee Lozano's »MATRIX 135« exhibition at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut. The score was written for composer and singer Joan La Barbara, who premiered the work onsite on March 29, 1998. Lucier has written that he »imagined the work as a mini opera with Joan taking the role of Lee Lozano, singing her paintings into existence or perhaps simply singing to herself as she worked on them.«

Lucier's »Wave Songs« recall certain objective features of Lozano's »Wave Series« cycle. Lozano's painting is comprised of eleven canvases each 96 inches high; Lucier's score is comprised of eleven solos each 96 seconds long; and both artists draw on the various factors of 96 – 2, 4, 6, 8, 12, 16, 24, 32, 48, and 96 – to structure their statements.

For example, in the first solo we hear two pure waves tuned 48 hertz apart; the vocalist, beginning and ending in unison, sings a descending line that divides this space into eight-hertz intervals. In subsequent solos, the two pure waves draw closer together, ultimately reaching a near unison, and the vocalist sings against one or both waves creating audible beats that differently explore the numerological possibilities. Throughout, the vocalist matches the sound of the pure waves by singing on the vowel sound »oo«, excepting for solo »X«, which draws on a text of Lozano.

Author: Keith Moore

Video documentary:

ZKM | Videostudio

Camera: Christina Zartmann, Xenia Leidig
Live editing: Andy Koch