Boomkat Product Review:
Unmissable first vinyl pairing of superlative ’60s avant garde works by Alvin Lucier, supplying refreshed introduction for two canonic and uniquely life-affirming recordings, or as Robert Ashley says "There is nothing like "Vespers" in the literature of music. It is a completely new way of defining what music is, and the definition is given to us in a purely realized form".
’Vespers’ simply leaves us shivering with the pleasure of sound at its purest, igniting the proprioceptive senses with frankly phenomenal results that leave our hairs standing on end. Now plated up with 1968’s ear-boggling ‘Chambers’, which with hindsight now sounds uncannily like a conceptual inversion to ‘Vespers’, the two works’ contrasts serve to highlight the genius and - for want of a better word - absolute magic of Lucier’s compositions. With bags of wit, pragmatism and ingenuity that ignite the senses and potentially make listeners perceive the world differently, pieces such as these historically marked a schism with staid, crenellated old world ideas of what music could be.
“Vespers (1969) and Chambers (1968), the two works featured on this LP, witness Lucier rethinking the material and conceptual possibilities of music at every turn. First released as Lucier's contribution to the Sonic Arts Union's lone LP, Electronic Sound, in 1972, Vespers is a work generated by two equal actors —the performers and the space that they occupy. Conceived following a chance encounter with hand-held echolocation technology —the Sondol™, a pulse oscillator that emits short, sharp pulses at variable repetition speeds, producing echoes from the reflecting walls of a space to register relative location and orientation— it stands as one of the first works in history within which the decisions made during the performance are solely based on acoustics, allowing sound to be equally the content and structural determiner.
Written as a poetic "prose score", for the realization of Vespers, each performer is equipped with a Sondol™ and asked to move blindfolded within a defined space, moving from one point to the next using only echolocation, taking what Lucier describes as "sound photographs" that reveal discrete details of the given area. As the recording unfolds, the aptitude of this image becomes increasingly clear. While an aesthetic relationship to the movement of musical minimalism, embarked upon by a number of his peers, has often presented itself within Lucier's work, of all of them this is arguably most present within Vespers. Despite the radical leap it presented within the history of the sonic arts, Vespers was not the first of Lucier's works that began to specifically address the relation between sound, perception, and space. Notably Chambers, composed the year before in 1968 and embedded with the wry humor which lingers below much of the composer’s output, explored the theme on a brilliantly miniature scale.
As a total work, Chambers contends with the relationship between the knowing and understanding of what we hear, our perception of the source of a sound, and its relation to space. When viewed in the immediate context of Vespers, as it is here, it presents as an unexpected inversion of what was to come. While it plays on the relation of sight and the sonic actor, here what is seen and unseen takes on a dynamically different role. Equally, there is not one space to perceive, but many. For the realization of Chambers, battery-operated radios, tape recorders, and various kinds of electric toys are hidden in paper bags, shoes, kettles, a suitcase, and other small resonant spaces, which not only limit the perception of these object to their sounds alone, but take on the role of acoustic actors on the sounds within, each space becoming as individual and distinct as the object it contains. Taking it one step further, rather than being static, these "chambers" are carried by performers into larger ones —those in which the work is performed— further altering the sounds which occupy them, drawing the ear, once again, to the action of that which contains a body of sound.”