Black Truffle present breathtaking, mind-bending works from Alvin Lucier; premiering a pair of pieces written for and performed by Oren Ambarchi and Stephen O’Malley (Sunn 0))), Æthenor), and released thru the former’s indomitable Black Truffle label. Lovers of life-affirming avant-garde music of all stripes need to stop what they’re doing and check this one, pronto!
Both works offer an extension of Lucier’s “elegant explorations of the behaviour of sound in physical space” which have been ongoing since the ’60s, and includes his best known work, I Am Sitting In A Room , a piece that has practically become required listening for anyone with an interest in 20th century avant-garde music thought and practice.
Specifically, Lucier’s work places great focus on the infidelities of instrumental phenomena and closely tuned pitches, often using pure, electronically generated oscillations in combination with single instruments in order to both highlight and blur their tonal and timbral distinctions. This LP documents two works in this vein, firstly on Criss Cross, his debut work for electric guitars, written especially for Ambarchi and O’Malley playing one semitone each in duo, and secondly on Hanover, a much grander tribute to Lucier’s father, Alvin A Lucier, who is pictured on the sleeve in 1918 with the Dartmouth Jazz band.
The A-side’s Criss Cross is truly one of the heaviest things we’ve heard in years. With Ambarchi on the left channel and O’Malley to the right, the duo improvise on a single semitone, generating thick, viscous waves of wobbling oscillations that merge in transfixing formation at the middle . So far, so simple, but the effect - which alters brilliantly on headphones or with proper amplification - is just staggering, baffling the senses with a richly saturated, undulating sonic pressure to visceral, psychotomimetic ends.
The first time we heard this piece on headphones it just floored us, but then we tried on speakers and tried to conduct a conversation at the same time. The effect was something like an anechoic chamber - the conversation couldn’t happen because our voices sounded louder in our head than in the room. WTF?! Just to push it one step farther, I also tried listening on headphones while on a plane, and can only imagine what the EasyJet staff thought of my eyes rolling in back of my skull. Quite honestly, I haven’t heard anything quite like it since Zbigniew Karkowsi & Topher Davidson’s Processor, and that’s a proper percy.
The B-side’s Hanover is just as precise, but the intensity and tonal variation is multiplied by he number of players, including O’Malley and Ambarchi on electric guitars joined by alto and tenor sax, violin, piano and bowed vibraphone. Here the tones are far more pinched and slippery, streaking the stereo field in iridescent timbral dynamics and almost lilting cadence, and with a far more delicate, intricate appeal when compared to the other piece.
It almost goes without saying that a new Alvin Lucier work is worth your time, but in case you’re under any doubts - this LP is just astonishing, ingenious, preternaturally brilliant stuff.