Alvin Lucier: Opera for Objects


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Alvin Lucier: Opera for Objects (1997) | International Contemporary Ensemble and FAR NORTH // THE DISKOTEK from ICE on Vimeo.

Anna Thorvaldsdottir, Arnbjörg Maria Danielsen, Eivind Buene, Greenland, HH Poulsen, Hrafn Ásgeirsson, International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), Karl Sibelius, Klaus Geisler, Majbritt Bech, Mike Thomsen, National Theatre of Greenland, Phyllis Chen, Ross Karre, Sofia Jernberg, Tiffany Ayalik, Trond Reinholdtsen

From the 2014 summer DISKOTEK Sessions in Oqaatsut, Disko Bay, Greenland.

 Video by Ross Karre


Lucier wrote OPERA WITH OBJECTS for his student class. The piece is a simple exercise in learning about the acoustical properties of various objects (“Your task is to make vivid for listeners the natural amplification inherent in physical things” ), but Lucier’s decisions as to how the piece should be performed make this exercise a Grand Opera. The performer stands behind a table with an arrangement of various objects of a more or less ordinary nature. A matchbox, an empty can, a candy jar… Rather than tapping the objects directly, the performer starts tapping one pencil against the other in a regular way, creating a rather dry sound. When the tip of the tapped pencil touches the surface of an object, the object amplifies the sound of the pencils. By moving the tip of the pencil along the surface, this sound can be altered. Once an object is explored, the performer moves on to the next (without stopping to tap), eventually with a slightly different speed or dynamics.

Since the amplification depends on the resonances of each individual object, the sound of the tapping can be very different and sometimes quite astonishing. One of the great surprises at many performances was a very small matchbox, one of Lucier’s favorite objects (from an oyster bar near his home). It turned out to be one of the loudest “amplifiers” and could have easily been the “leading voice” in this opera with (ordinary) objects. Sadly enough, it was stolen together with other objects on one of Lucier’s numerous concert travels…

One of Alvin Lucier's most basic working premises: “If you let something happen and don’t make big changes, you start to hear the acoustical phenomena.” (Text by Viola Rusche & Hauke Harder)