Alvin Lucier

mode 312

Swing Bridge; Sizzles


mode 312 Alvin Lucier: Swing Bridge; Sizzles —  Austin Buckett, organ. Australian Art Orchestra

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Swing Bridge

Sizzles (1997) for organ, various drums & vibrating materials  13:21

Swing Bridge (2015) for organ, ensemble & pipe wavers  36:20
Commissioned by the Australian Art Orchestra

BONUS TRACK:  Sizzles, Take 6  12:09

Austin Buckett, Melbourne Town Hall Grand Organ
Australian Art Orchestra


This release brings together two works by Alvin Lucier centered on the pipe organ, a perfect instrument for Lucier’s compositional practice. 

Both are first recordings.

“Swing Bridge” was commissioned by this record’s ensemble, the Australian Art Orchestra, for the Melbourne Town Hall Grand Organ. The score requires that specific pipes be removed from the organ and run into three specially constructed offset chests, each accommodating two pipes (six pitches total). These pipes are manipulated by three or more performers, known as ‘pipe wavers.’

This music explores the phenomenon of the organ making its operation performative and visceral. We hear the way the energy produced by the organ ‘sounds’ the space in which the music was performed and recorded, and, for those who witnessed the performance, we experienced the physicality of air moving through pipes as the wavers shifted the tuning of each pipe microtonally with their hands. This is conceptual work of the highest order but it is also sensual, beautiful, and engrossing, with the textures of the ensemble woven into the pulsations produced by the organ and the resonances of the room. 

The organ and pipe wavers are accompanied by the ensemble who create long tones microtonally associated to the organ.

For “Sizzles” the composer writes: “Drums of various sizes are randomly placed throughout the performance space. Fine materials such as lentils, chickpeas, and candy hearts are sprinkled on the drumheads. As low organ tones are sounded, the skins of the drums vibrate sympathetically, causing the drums to sound and the material to move. Each drum is individually amplified with a contact or air microphone and a separate amplifier.” 

Alvin Lucier made the final choices of the versions of “Sizzles” featured on this release.

Liner notes by Peter Knight and Alvin Lucier.


Alvin Lucier worked right up until his death in 2021 at age 90, his curiosity and sense of inquiry seemingly undiminished. This bracing new release reinforces that vigor, presenting two organ-based works, one of which was commissioned by the Australian Art Orchestra for the Melbourne Town Hall Grand Organ. In his revealing liner note essay, ensemble leader Peter Knight celebrates the directness, boldness, and precision of Lucier in describing how a terse set of instructions, in which certain pipes from the organ were to be removed and set within custom-made wooden boxes and controlled manually by a group of “pipe wavers,” worked exactly as promised—something that almost never happens with sound’s endless variability. The harmonic effects produced by the organ pipes—which sometimes sound like sine tones when lost deep in the psychoacoustic glow—and brass, strings, and voice are astonishing, flush with swoops and arcs of beating patterns that are renewably trippy. That work is sandwiched between two versions of Lucier’s 1997 composition “Sizzles,” in which the lowest, most juddery tones of a church organ are voiced to produce vibrations across a series of drums with different objects—chickpeas, lentils, rice—strewn across their surface. The two takes were among seven versions recorded, with the composer picking this pair as his favorite. Their visceral charge, thunderous depth, and brittle tactility is just as thrilling as the centerpiece.
— Peter Margasak, Bandcamp Best Contemporary Classical, January 2023


See: Alvin Lucier profile

See also:

Navigations for Strings; Small Waves (mode 124)
Ever Present (mode 178)
Broken Line (mode 281)
Two Circles (mode 295)