Alvin Lucier

April 5, 2019


The Queen of the South (1972)

Drawing on the experiments of 18th century physicist and musician Ernst Chladni and 20th century physician Hans Jenny, Alvin Lucier’s The Queen of the South (1972) attempts a direct visualization of sonic vibration. In 1787, Chladni drew a violin bow along the edge of a brass plate sprinkled with a thin layer of sand. The vibrating surface bounced the granules into symmetrical forms—stars, waves, grids, and labyrinths—he termed “sound figures.” Nearly two centuries later, Jenny published the book Cymatics, which further explored and photographically documented the effects of sound vibrations on various substances. Lucier’s score calls for performers to sing, speak, or play electronic or acoustical instruments to activate responsive surfaces strewn with fine materials in order to make visible the effects of sound. The title is drawn from a figure in alchemy, which attempts the transmutation of one substance into another.

Ron Kuivila, Sparkline, with acceleration (2003)

A spark is the visual analogue of a sound: it appears briefly and then disappears, leaving a trace in the memory. Curiously, the sound of a spark has no “body.” Instead of vibrating (pushing and pulling the air), it literally tears the air via a flow of electrons. For Sparkline, with acceleration, Kuivila records sparks as they jump across parallel wires and then plays back these sounds at a slowly increasing rate. Initially sounding five octaves below, the sound of the spark gradually accelerates until it is several octaves higher than the initial sound and stops.

Ron Kuivilia

Ultrasound, stun guns, static fields, speech synthesis, weather reports—these are some of the materials and processes Ron Kuivila uses to compose music and create sound installations. Kuivila builds and modifies electronic instruments, and designs software and algorithms that serve his compositional needs. His works not only explore physical phenomena but social phenomena as well, cultivating the creative capacities of non-musicians, for example, or assembling ghostly archives of recorded voices.


A key figure in post-Cagean experimental music and sound art, Alvin Lucier has influenced generations of composers and artists. His works often explore basic physical phenomena but transform them into experiences of poetic and aesthetic wonder. One of Lucier’s earliest pieces, Music for Solo Performer (1965), excited percussion instruments using brain waves. Others (Whistlers, 1967, and Sferics, 1981) channeled ionospheric disturbances. Yet another, Vespers, enjoined blindfolded performers with handheld echolocation devices to navigate the performance space like bats. Indeed, many of Lucier’s projects—notably Chambers (1968), Music on a Long Thin Wire (1977), and his most famous piece, I Am Sitting in a Room (1970)— investigate the resonance of sounds in space and the way architecture functions as an audio amplifier and filter. Lucier has been endlessly inventive for more than a half century; and he continues to collaborate with and inspire younger artists.

Future Events:

April 5, 7pm

"The Queen of the South" and Ron Kuivila, "Sparkline, with acceleration"