At last, in recent years, sound art pioneer Alvin Lucier can enjoy the deserved privilege of being recognized as a cult figure for a new generation of classical and experimental musicians, spontaneously catalyzed by his intuitions as essential as they are meaningful, aimed at deeply listening to a vast and yet unexplored sound phenomenology.
At the same time, after decades of empirical studies on the properties of the most disparate objects and materials, the interest of the American dean for traditional instrumentation has been emerging with increasing clarity: an aspect emphasized in particular by Black Truffle’s valuable editions — from the live anthology Illuminated by the Moon (2018) to the Works for the Ever Present Orchestra (2020) which he himself founded. In this context is inserted the excellent Quatuor Bozzini’s new album, an ideal excursus into Lucier’s microtonal and “concrete” investigations applied to an ensemble of string instruments only.
Active for over twenty years now, already the Canadian line-up has considerably distinguished itself in the repertoire of the New York school (Cage, Tenney) as well as today’s offshoots variously affiliated with it (Jürg Frey, Linda Catlin Smith, Cassandra Miller), plus an interesting dual Norwegian project by Kim Myhr ( pressing clouds passing crowds, 2018) and Ingar Zach ( floating layer cake, 2019). But it is especially in the frequent confrontation with Lucier’s poetics that the adoption of an approach that transcends the mere reading of a score becomes indispensable: over the five stages of Navigations, unusual and heterodox forms of harmony take shape, in direct dialogue with and nourished by spaces, in a radical return to the essence of sound making.
A phlegmatic, imperceptible digressive motion unfolds in the shifting unison of Disappearances (1994): at first extremely sharp and compact in shaping an apparently flat acoustic surface, with remarkable control the quartet alternately slides through the tiniest intervals of the instruments, producing the illusory beats that occur in the gap between immediately adjacent frequencies; a fleeting sense of void also accompanies the changes in direction of the bows, like subsidences in the fragile weft of a fabric under the effect of a constant tension.
Composed the same year, Unamuno consists of twenty-four reconfigurations of the same four semitones, vocally replicated by their own creators: an element that accentuates the ritualistic, albeit rigorously objectivating character of Lucier’s performative pieces, comparable to the projection of geometric directrices intended to converge and fuse into a lucent synthesis of complementary colors.
The double iteration of Group Tapper (2004) brings us back to the first CD of the recent collection String Noise (2020), occupied by a patient “measurement” of space conducted by following the reverberation of the bow strokes reflected by the bare walls of an art gallery. The interweaving of rhythmic patterns put into action by Bozzini is however much more lively, even nervous, as it exceptionally makes them pass through a sphere of relative naturalistic mimesis: the curved wooden bodies, struck on their every part with the hard ends of the bow handles, cross in fact a range of timbral solutions that seemingly extends from the patter of busy birdies to the ferocious tumult of the (urban) jungle. These are the most markedly theatrical episodes of the program, performed at physical distance while slowly moving, in order to conjugate the sound gestures and the architecture of the concert hall, the fifth “instrument” which, on closer inspection, plays a fundamental role in each phenomenal instance conceived by Lucier.
Lastly comes the title piece Navigations (1991), previously recorded in the studio by the always formidable Arditti Quartet ( Mode, 2003): deliberately played out on the verge of minimum dissonance, the perpetually unstable scenario sustained by the quartet simulates a spiraling descent into the psychoacoustic depths, home to faint hallucinations once again caused by the changes of tempo and microtonal oscillations in constant interrelation. A true paradigm of the quietly sublimating aesthetics of Alvin Lucier, an irreducible master of contemporary experimentation who, thanks to the passion and sensitivity of the Bozzini Quartet, receives here one of the most substantial discographic tributes released in recent times.