Boomkat Product Review:
45th anniversary reissue of Alvin Lucier’s momentous and mesmerising debut: a landmark of the late c.20th avant garde, unavailable on vinyl for 20 years. Massive RIYL John Cage, Robert Ashley, David Behrman, Annea Lockwood
Originally released by the legendary Cramps Records in 1976, ‘Bird and Person Dyning’ hails the point when the Lucier, like his peers of the Sonic Arts Union (David Behrman, Gordon Mumma, and Robert Ashley) really came into his own, offering hugely playful, and considered, responses to the challenges previously laid down by John Cage, and forming a singular new body of work in the process. Predating Lucier’s better known and totemic piece ‘I Am Sitting In A Room’ (1981), the two works on ‘Bird and Person Dyning’ highlight an earlier, spellbinding iteration of his fascination with acoustic phenomena and auditory perception, using a mix of Cageian strategy and poetic personal wit to explore the nuance of textural contrasts and, with it, the meaning of sound’s materiality.
Quite unlike anything before it, the A-side’s “grotesque jukebox” work ‘The Duke of York’ bears traces of the vocal explorations that would inform ‘I Am Sitting In A Room’. Reciting from an assembly of assorted texts of “whole songs, speeches, arias, selected excerpts from books, letters, poems, films, plays, TV series or any other vocal sounds, including non-human ones” the composer’s voice becomes progressively processed from subtly stereo-swept hush, to deeply uncanny warble, and ultimately a proto-noise mulch over its 20 minutes. With hindsight, we could draws parallels with what TG were doing at the time, but there’s a more elegant nature to Lucier’s work that bridges the more disciplined, oblique work of Cage with something more dreamlike, that relishes in the grain and psychedelic nature of the sound itself.
The B-side’s ‘Bird and Person Dyning’ however showcases Lucier’s obsession with space, and particularly in relation to the body. By way of binaural microphones, he captures the pre-recorded sounds of birdsong phasing and creating interference patterns as he moves between the speakers, with the slightest tilt of the head causing shifts in feedback timbres and volume. The results are on the cusp of harshly bittersweet and even visceral, uncannily sharing the artist’s POV in a way that will play with your own proprioception and question your grasp of place in the world. Again, there are possible links to be drawn with the likes of NWW’s feedback experiments on ’Soliloquy For Lilith’ some years later, and we can possibly hear this piece as a natural bridge between Messiaen’s work with birdsong, thru the tones of Clara Rockwell’s theremin, and the alien scapes of early electronics - but Lucier is looser and more enchanting with his subtly tactile sense of freedom.