Friday, June 15, 2012

Alvin Lucier - Clocker (1994)

Alvin Lucier's music frequently straddles the line between entertainment and science experiment, and sometimes the actual audible results are overshadowed by the acoustic concepts he is so intent on demonstrating. Whether or not that is the case here, each listener will have to decide for himself, but I personally find Clocker to be a rewarding, if fairly infrequent, listen.

The forty-five minute piece is an attempt to simulate the speeding up and slowing down of time, a highly abstract and ambitious goal to be sure. To achieve this, Lucier has affixed several galvanic skin response sensors to his body, and has rigged a clock to respond to the resulting signals, complete with a delay effect to make it sound cooler. And that's all there is, a ticking clock that changes its speed in response the resistance of the composer's skin. Sound boring? It's actually pretty cool.

As the clock changes speeds, the pitch of the clicks changes as well, so the fast bits are high and fluttery, while the slow bits are deep and ominous. You can also hear the overtones quite nicely, and dramatic sweeps create a kind of watery splooshing effect.

It could be argued that the whole thing goes on a little long, but there is surprising variety to be found. The presense of delay allows for some interesting interlocking rhythms, and there is a delightfully suspenseful moment when the ticking becomes too high and fast to hear and the resulting dramatic pause hangs in the air for just the right amount of time before the clock comes plunging back into the realm of audible frequencies.

Clocker is a high concept piece to be sure, and not for everyone, but for those interested in pursuing the frontiers of sonic possibilities, it can be a pretty neat trip.

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