So You (Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice)

Alvin Lucier

March 10 — March 11, 2023
Géza, 306 Maujer
March 10, 7pm, 2023
So You (Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice)

March 11, 2pm 2023
So You (Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice)
Three Solos

Performed by Jessika Kenney, Anthony Burr, and Charles Curtis.

Alvin Lucier’s experimental compositions are some of the 20th century’s most singular achievements in technology, sound art, and imagination. Often referring to naturally occurring situations like the acoustics of architectural space, echolocation, biofeedback, and the strange phenomena produced by interactions between frequencies, Lucier’s body of work orients listeners away from singular notes and toward the sonic continuum: “Sounds for me have to move not only up and down, but in and out, and across space somewhere; they have to live in space.”

For the New York premiere of So You (Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice), Anthony Burr, Charles Curtis, and Jessika Kenney will reperform their roles for the first time since the composer’s death in 2021 in two performances on March 10th and 11th. Each musician will also present a solo Lucier work.

This program is co-presented with Blank Forms and is part of Amant’s Compendio series, a condensed, performative format in which we present a single performer’s practice—both as an active presentation and accompanied by additional documentation and reference materials.

So You (Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice)

Alvin Lucier’s So You (Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice) is inspired by poet H.D.’s 1916 feminist retelling of the Greek myth of Orpheus’s descent into the underworld to bring back his wife Eurydice. This one-hour-long narrative epic unites two fields of musical exploration Lucien is known for mining: interference patterns and spatial resonance, which create an extended journey from high to low C and back again. This work was originally composed for Documenta 14 in Athens in 2017 and was written specifically for longtime Lucier collaborators Charles Curtis, cello, and Anthony Burr, clarinet, and vocalist Jessika Kenney.

So You (Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice) brings together the sustained tones of a cello, a clarinet and vocals alongside three sweeping sine waves and nine speakers positioned inside Greek amphorae. Orpheus, famous for his command of the stringed lyre, maps onto the cello, while the swift-footed Hermes, the only god able move freely from Mount Olympus down to Hades, is represented by the clarinet. As H.D.’s defiant Eurydice, Kenney stretches two-word snippets of the poem into feats of extended vocalization, taking Orpheus to task for his assumption that she wanted to be rescued in the first place.

For this New York premiere, Burr, Curtis, and Kenney will reperform their roles for the first time since Alvin Lucier’s death in 2021.

On March 11 at 3:15pm, immediately after the performance of So You (Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice), poet Susan Howe will join for a conversation.

Three Solos

Alvin Lucier: Three Solos presents compositions from Lucier’s nearly six-decade-long career performed by Jessika Kenney and his longtime collaborators Anthony Burr and Charles Curtis.

In 1972, Lucier inaugurated his exploration of the phenomenon of audible beating and spinning created by colliding sound waves with his open-ended four-part work Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas. The idea, in Lucier’s words, was that “rhythm can be created by tuning.” Jessika Kenney will perform part one, no. 2, from Lucier’s 1984 revision of the piece. In this solo, 16 long vocal tones separated by silences interact with a fixed oscillator. The slight differences between these closely tuned notes cause them to shatter and spiral around the room.

In Memoriam Jon Higgins, a work for clarinet and sine wave written in 1984 to commemorate the life of the Wesleyan musicologist and Carnatic vocal performer, marks Lucier’s first use of sine wave sweeps in combination with solo instrumentation. Over 20 minutes, the wave moves from the top of the clarinet’s register to the bottom, while clarinetist Anthony Burr plays tones lasting about a minute. These sustained tones interact with the constantly shifting pitch of the wave and result in different tempos depending on the distance between notes.

Born in Nashua, New Hampshire in 1931, Alvin Lucier trained in neoclassical composition at Yale and Brandeis. Lucier’s path veered toward the avant-garde after an early 1960s encounter with the work of John Cage, David Tudor, and Merce Cunningham, resulting in Music for Solo Performer (1965), a piece in which brain waves are amplified such that their resonance activates percussive instruments. The following year, Lucier founded the Sonic Arts Union with Robert Ashley, David Behrman, and Gordon Mumma to further the artists’ investigations into new sounds and ways of producing them. In the 1980s, Lucier returned to acoustic instruments, composing solo, group, and orchestral works for a wide array of performers. Between 1970 and 2011, he was a much-loved professor of music at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, where he lived until his death at age 90 in 2021, composing and performing all the while.
Preeminent clarinetist Anthony Burr works across and beyond traditional chamber music, contemporary classical, recording engineering, and musical production. He has collaborated with Laurie Anderson, Brian Ferneyhough, Alvin Lucier, Helmut Lachenmann, Jim O’Rourke, and John Zorn, among his many others. Burr performs in the free improv trio The Clarinets with Chris Speed and Oscar Noriega, has an ongoing duo with Icelandic bassist and composer Skúli Sverrisson, and regularly scores live the films of artist Jennifer Reeves. Burr currently teaches in the music department of the University of California, San Diego, where he collaborates frequently with cellist Charles Curtis.
Charles Curtis is one of the premiere avant-garde cellists of our times. Trained at Juilliard, Curtis also studied with composer La Monte Young and vocalist Pandit Pran Nath; and he is one of the few musicians to have mastered Young’s rigorous practice of performance in just intonation. Curtis has performed and premiered modern classical, minimalist, and chamber music compositions all around the world. Numerous major composers—among whom La Monte Young, Alvin Lucier, Éliane Radigue, Christian Wolff, Alison Knowles, and Tashi Wada—have written works specifically for him. Curtis is Distinguished Professor of Music at the University of California, San Diego. Recent releases include Performances and Recordings 1998–2018 (2020) and Terry Jennings: Piece for Cello and Saxophone (2022), both on Wada’s label Saltern.
Jessika Kenney is a vocalist, composer, and teacher whose work extends the vocal traditions of Indonesian sindhenan and Persian radif into new realms by way of contemporary composition and improvisation. Internationally regarded for the elegiac, timbral quality of her voice, her practice of sphygmoresonance, or resonance of pulse, entails ritualistic focus and reverence for inner architecture that emanates a palpable sense of stillness. Kenney’s interest in the full spectrum experience of sound has led to collaborations with a wide range of experimentalists, while her partnership with composer/violist Eyvind Kang has yielded five albums of minimal, delicate beauty. A student of radif with Ostad Hossein Omoumi, Kenney’s music is timeless yet steeped in textual research, respectful of its spiritual roots while evoking unknown futures.
Initially trained in painting, poet, scholar, critic, and essayist Susan Howe came to the fore in the early 1970s as one of the so-called “Language poets” with her deconstructed, typographically varied verse. Fascinated with the movement and remnants of history, particularly of early colonial America, her references have included Emily Dickinson, Jonathan Swift, and Esther (Hester) Johnson, the Thirty Years’ War, the Indian Wars in New England, her family and Irish ancestry, Charles Pierce, and Chris Marker, among many others. Since 2003, Howe and her collaborator David Grubbs have recorded five albums, the most recent of which is Concordance (2021). Howe, who has written more than a dozen books of poetry, lives in Guilford, Connecticut, and has been the recipient of numerous awards.