The four compositions on this double CD can nearly be divided in conflicting groupings as far as this listener’s response and psychosomatic participation are concerned. The first and the last seem to tend to the “ice-cold examination” area, while the middle chapters are the ones in which a certain degree of empathy is detectable. After a career spent dealing with “such phenomena as echolocation, brain waves, room acoustics and the visual representation of sound”, Lucier has been penning scores at the request of selected instrumentalists for a good number of years now. In this circumstance, the virtuosos tackling the material were cellist Charles Curtis, pianist Joseph Kubera, flutist Robert Dick, vibraphonist Danny Tunick and tubist Robin Hayward.
“Twonings”, for piano and cello, is based on the discrepancy between types of tuning (equal temperament the former, just intonation the latter). Throughout the piece, notes from the keyboard and string harmonics are played in unison; slight contrasts introduced by the clashing partials are what makes an otherwise rather average minimalist composition whisper sweeter suggestions to our ears. The title track features a single participant walking across a stage and using five species of flutes to emit protracted tones against two pure wave oscillators; this is probably the moment in which the classic sense of aural unbalance typical of vintage Lucier is felt. “Broken Line” for flute, vibraphone and piano is profoundly characterized by Dick’s sliding embouchure, which allows him to obtain stirring glissandos all over the whole set’s most expressive episode; we’re tempted to call it mathematical mournfulness. On the other hand, I couldn’t manage to extort emotions from the second disc, entirely occupied by Hayward’s tuba performing “Coda Variations” (whose foundation is a succession of tones taken from Morton Feldman’s “Duration 3”). The absolute charm of the instrument’s chubby accent is regrettably rendered less significant by a general lack of pressure, the score being a little too flat to really engage.
Class is class, and the magnitude of Alvin Lucier’s work will never be diminished here. However, parts of Almost New York – especially the above mentioned “Coda Variations” – made us envision a specialist in the physics of uncontaminated vibration willing to join Wandelweiser to see what happens. Luckily, there’s also something that is more in tune (pun intended) with his celebrated aesthetic of throb. Both substantial and animistic.