Alvin Lucier Alvin Lucier

Opera with Objects (1997)

"The idea is to explore the resonant properties of various ordinary objects and one way I do this is to take two pencils."

Opera with Objects

Lucier wrote OPERA WITH OBJECTS for his student class. The piece is a simple exercise in learning about the acoustical properties of various objects (“Your task is to make vivid for listeners the natural amplification inherent in physical things” ), but Lucier’s decisions as to how the piece should be performed make this exercise a Grand Opera. The performer stands behind a table with an arrangement of various objects of a more or less ordinary nature. A matchbox, an empty can, a candy jar… Rather than tapping the objects directly, the performer starts tapping one pencil against the other in a regular way, creating a rather dry sound. When the tip of the tapped pencil touches the surface of an object, the object amplifies the sound of the pencils. By moving the tip of the pencil along the surface, this sound can be altered. Once an object is explored, the performer moves on to the next (without stopping to tap), eventually with a slightly different speed or dynamics.
Since the amplification depends on the resonances of each individual object, the sound of the tapping can be very different and sometimes quite astonishing. One of the great surprises at many performances was a very small matchbox, one of Lucier’s favorite objects (from an oyster bar near his home). It turned out to be one of the loudest “amplifiers” and could have easily been the “leading voice” in this opera with (ordinary) objects. Sadly enough, it was stolen together with other objects on one of Lucier’s numerous concert travels…
With OPERA WITH OBJECTS as a charming eye-catcher, we introduce Alvin Lucier into the film. Presenting this piece, he points out one of his most basic working premises: “If you let something happen and don’t make big changes, you start to hear the acoustical phenomena.”