The Callithumpian Consort performed a concert of Robert Ashley, Alvin Lucier, and Christian Wolff right in my home city of Boston on September 28th. I went to the first 45 minutes of a meeting, and then awkwardly ducked out to get there. I’m very glad I did.
Robert Ashley’s piece, in memoriam…Esteban Gomez was built out of one pitch, its surroundings and outcomes. The transitions were seamless and indecipherable. The tones went further afield from that starting pitch over the course of the piece, but always with the same point of gravity. As a listener I was subtly led away from the singleness of that note, and was surprised at just how surprising the return to it felt at the end of the piece.
Lucier’s Crossings was set up with two groups of players, one on each side of the stage. It might have been partially for that reason that I started to imagine it as a sporting event. But the action was not happening on the stage. It was way up in the air, far above everyone’s heads in Jordan Hall. That is where, to my perception, the tones produced by the players were interacting with the sine tones as they were rising in pitch. The points of friction between the acoustic tones and sine tones produced beating. As the generated pitch rose, more and more players became involved. I had a visual and spatial image of the sounds as particles in the space of the hall. The central action of the piece was the impact and outcomes of those particles. This reaction sounds very subjective, but it is the closest I can come to describing the experience of the piece. It would have been quite different if there were more than one stream of pitches, or there was some other complication of the premise of the piece. But that is a fundamental trait of Lucier’s music: the trajectory is clear, so that the listener’s attention is directed towards the outcomes of that trajectory.
I enjoyed Wolff’s Braverman Music too, and it was quite well performed. I don’t have a clear enough grasp of the piece to say much about it. But there is a book that’s come out recently: Changing the System: The Music of Christian Wolff, edited by Philip Thomas and Stephen Chase, with contributions by lots of people who do have great things to say. I’m very interested to get my hands on a copy.