Alvin Lucier Alvin Lucier

Music on a Long Thin Wire (1977)

“I thought: what if I had a wire, really long, from the Earth to the Moon. It would sound wonderful.”

Music on a Long Thin Wire

The setup is rather simple: A wire stretched between two platforms, usually between two tables. A magnet is positioned on one of the platforms so that the wire is located between the two poles of the magnet. Both ends of the wire are connected to a strong amplifier. A sine wave is fed into the wire. The interaction between the magnetic field and the electric current makes the wire vibrate. Contact microphones attached to bridges (positioned between platform and wire) pick up the sound of the wire. So far, so good. However, this doesn’t necessarily lead to interesting musical results. Only because of Lucier’s choice to take a long wire at rather low tension and to use a strong magnet and amplifier, does the wire – if carefully tuned – show various acoustical phenomena and behave in an unpredictable way. In this state, the wire changes by itself without any alterations to the system. It seems to possess a life of its own.
MUSIC ON A LONG THIN WIRE can be installed in many different ways, and therefore we decided to show two versions in our film. A “classic” version with two tables, exclusively installed for the film at the museum Hamburger Bahnhof, Berlin, and the overhead version at Kunsthaus Zug in Switzerland. The setup of these versions differed in many respects: the length of the wire (25m vs. 35m), the amplifier and magnet, and the musical results were also quite different as the sequences in our film demonstrate. The table version revealed no dramatic changes, but stayed within a slightly varying, interesting soundscape. This was the case with various attempts at different tunings of the wire. The overhead version, however, constantly altered between long, sometimes even very long, nearly silent moments and active periods, during which the wire burst into complex harmonies. It upheld this behavior during the entire, more than three-month course of the exhibition.