Antiopic Sigma Editions

This fabulous double CD, lodged in an elegantly sober digipack complete with intriguing booklet, confirms what many people have been thinking for a while: Alvin Lucier is THE master of psychoacoustic minimalism, no question about it. And when the performers are as good as clarinettist Anthony Burr and cellist Charles Curtis, there’s not even the slightest chance of failing to appreciate these explorations of vibrating particles and translucent matters. “In Memoriam John Higgins”, for clarinet in A and slow sweep pure wave oscillator, rises from the marrow of the bones to the very centre of the eyes, dematerializing the burden of silence through its gradual evolution, as Burr picks the most luminescent spots to let his clarinet shine over the slowly ascending oscillator, finally setting it free to get lost in the ionosphere. “On the Carpet of Leaves Illuminated by the Moon” pits Curtis’ plucked cello against the pure wave oscillator. It’s like the leakage of mercury from a thermometer forgotten for decades in a drawer. The breathtaking mid-air floating that any sentient being experiences upon listening to “Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas” (a major breakthrough in Lucier’s career) is best represented by “Part III Number 11″, whose juxtaposition of slow arco movement murmuring against the equally effective presence of a more obscure oscillator really makes the nerves quiver. “Part I Number 1″ is almost passionless, but no less interesting, an icy timbral microfibre in which the clarinet starts out looking for a better place to be and ends up remaining hidden behind the flow of the pure wave. Charles Curtis opens the second disc with the piece that bears his name, which is probably the high point of the whole set; against the will of the slow sweep (which itself causes an unbelievable sense of disequilibrium between the ears depending on the position of the listener’s head), he layers plangent combinations of strings in excruciating suspension amidst non-existent tonalities, a wonderful emotional escalation often recalling Nikos Veliotis’ rainy melancholy. On “In Memoriam Stuart Marshall” Burr’s bass clarinet (great instrument for Lucier’s impalpable structures) sounds like it’s breathing life into the moribund engine of a distant aeroplane – the resulting powerful beating of frequencies is totally mesmerizing, its grip on the back of the head even stronger than the sorrowful memories the piece evokes. The closing “Music for Cello with One or More Amplified Vases” is a call to prayer in the backyard of an abandoned country church, with Curtis’ cello responding to the slow ascending glissando with its own lamentation to the infinite. And while our eyes look for distant points of reference on the horizon, quiet finally returns to put an end to the kind of thought process that could almost become dangerous if you trusted it blindly.

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