So You (Hermes, Orpheus, Eurydice)
Géza, 306 Maujer
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.
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.
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.