Alvin Lucier

(b. 1931)

mode 124

Small Waves; Navigations For Strings



mode 124 Alvin LUCIER: Navigations for Strings; Small Waves for string quartet, trombone, piano and two water pourers – Hildegard Kleeb, piano. Roland Dahinden, trombone. Arditti Quartet. Composer supervised recordings

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Small Waves; Navigations For Strings
Durations: 15:17 ; 55:48. Program notes linked to from resource. The 2nd work for trombone, piano, string quartet, 2 water pourers & feedback from the amplified ambient sounds inside 6 glass vessels. Roland Dahinden, trombone; Hildegard Kleeb, piano (2nd work); Arditti Quartet. Recorded in 2001.

Navigations for Strings (1991)   (15:17)
The Arditti Quartet

Download the MP3 sample (2MB)

Small Waves (1997)   (55:48)
for String Quartet, Trombone, Piano and Two Water Pourers
Hildegard Kleeb, piano
Roland Dahinden, trombone
The Arditti Quartet: Irvine Arditti & Graeme Jennings, violins, Scheindlin, viola, Rohan de Saram, cello

Download the MP3 sample (1.8MB)

Alvin Lucier (b. 1931) has been a pioneer in many areas of music composition and performance, including the notation of performers’ physical gestures, the use of brain waves in live performance, the generation of visual imagery by sound in vibrating media, and the evocation of room acoustics for musical purposes. His recent works include a series of sound installations and works for solo instruments, chamber ensembles, and orchestra in which – by means of close tunings with pure tones – sound waves are caused to spin through space.

  • The works on this CD belong to Lucier’s unique sound world and sense of exploration.
  • Both works were written for the performers on this disc, including the renowned Arditti String Quartet.

Navigations for Strings (1991) was commissioned by the Hessischer Rundfunk (German Radio). Musically it consists of 4 tones, for which a long stream of continually changing melodic and instrumental combinations occur. As the players move through the combinations, they raise and lower the pitches in imperceptibly small increments, some smaller than the human ear can hear. As the size of the interval contracts, the players gradually lower the dynamic level and slow down the tempo, allowing the sounds to lengthen like shadows and recede into the ambiance of the room. Because of the closeness of the tunings, audible beats are heard at speeds determined by the distances between the pitches.

In Small Waves (1997), six glass vessels, some partially filled with water, are mounted on pedestals scattered around the performance space. Microphones are inserted into the mouths of the vessels, then routed through compressor-limiters to amplifiers and monitor speakers. During the course of the performance, the volume levels of the amplifiers are raised and lowered, causing feedback at pitches determined by the size and shape of the containers and their proximity to the loudspeakers. Following a sequence notated in the score, the players closely tune with the feedback strands causing interference patterns. At times, two water pourers empty water from one container to another, raising and lowering the pitches of the sounds from those containers.

  • Both works are remarkable microtonal musical experiences.
  • The Arditti Quartet are joined by the superb Swiss new music/ jazz musicians Hildegard Kleeb (piano) and Roland Dahinden (trombone).
  • Liner notes by the composer, who also supervised the recordings.


Alvin Lucier
Navigations/Small Waves

Mode 124 CD

Since the late 1960s when he was a co-founder of The Sonic Arts Union, Alvin Lucier has been exploring the microscopic components of sound, environmental acoustics, human hearing perception and natural sonorous phenomena. Navigation for Strings (1991) grew out of his study of audible atmospheric tones. The Arditti Quartet gradually compress a four note melodic cell (spanning a minor third) down to a single pitch through nearly imperceptible microtonal intervals, producing a subtle, buzzing complement of rhythmic beats in the process. In Small Waves (1997), the Ardittis, plus trombonist Roland Dahinden, must align and microtonally after their pitches with and against feedback drones created by inserting microphones into nottles and jars partly filled with water, while pianist Hildergard Kleeb outlines the feedback’s harmonic context. Dramatic modulations occur over time, and surprising consonant harmonies and teeth-grinding dissonances emerge and recede. At nearly an hour in length, Small Waves has the concentrated focus and nearly static progress of a late Feldman piece, though deriving from a distinctive combination of science and aesthetics.
— Art Lange, The Wire, December 2003



Also by ALVIN LUCIER on Mode Records:
Ever Present (mode 178)

John Cage: Five3 for trombone & string quartet (mode 75)
String Quartet in Four Parts; Four (mode 27)
Music for Four; Thirty Pieces for String Quartet (mode 17)
The Works for Violin 6, The String Quartets 4 (mode 144/145)
Elliott Carter: Quintets and Voices  (mode 128)
Chaya Czernowin: String Quartet (mode 77)
Gerard Pape: String Quartet #2 “Vortex”  (mode 26)
Le Fleuve du Désir for string quartet (mode 67)
Le Fleuve du Désir for string quartet and UPIC (mode 98/99)
Hilda Paredes: The Seventh Seed (mode 60)

Flying White (mode 175)
Naima (mode 62)
Silberen, Lichtweiss (mode 138)

Alvin Lucier profile