Alvin Lucier Alvin Lucier

Music for Pure Waves, Bass Drums and Acoustic Pendulums (1980)

Music for Pure Waves, Bass Drums and Acoustic Pendulums

MUSIC FOR PURE WAVES, BASS DRUMS AND ACOUSTIC PENDULUMS is one of the few pieces in Lucier’s œuvre that can be realized both as a performance piece and an installation. Four bass drums are placed side by side, with the drumheads facing the audience. In front of each bass drum, a ping pong ball is suspended from the ceiling, touching the center of the drumhead. A loudspeaker is positioned behind each bass drum and a sine wave is played back by all loudspeakers at the same volume. The sine wave slowly sweeps upwards through the low frequency resonance region of the bass drums. Once the frequency of the sine wave reaches the resonance region of a drum, the drumhead starts to vibrate sympathetically and pushes the ping pong ball away from the drumhead. The sweep is intended to “make an accurate mapping in time of all resonant, sympathetic, pendular, sonic, and visible phenomena.”
In our film, Lucier refers to this piece to expound his views on cause and effect that go beyond the simple linear causality of “if A happens, then B happens.” Lucier uses four (visually) identical systems of bass drum, pendulum and speaker. Though the systems seem to be identical, the rhythmic patterns created during the piece can be very different for each system. The most astonishing moments are when the pendulum is swinging and the ping pong ball hits the drumhead. If the drumhead moves towards the ball, the ball is pushed away with force. If the drumhead moves away from the ping pong ball, it dampens the swing and the regular movement of the pendulum suddenly stops. These moments cannot be foreseen, they break into an apparent regularity. Therefore, this effect and its cause are unpredictable.