Alvin Lucier: BIRD AND PERSON DYNING (1975)
Lucier could have entered this landmark list several times already -- I AM SITTING IN A ROOM (can you think of any other piece from the '60s with the same staying power?), MUSIC FOR SOLO PERFORMER, MUSIC ON A LONG THIN WIRE, CROSSINGS, or NAVIGATIONS FOR STRINGS might still appear -- but BIRD AND PERSON DYNING (an audio and video version can be found here) is here noted as a landmark because it is, uniquely, music where we actually listen to a composer listening. The sweet joke of the title conveys some of the initimacy of the piece: on stage are found only a solo performer wearing binaural mics, an electronic bird call hidden in a Christmas ornament, and a couple of loud speakers. The only visible motion is that of the performer, carefully moving through the space, sometimes walking, sometimes making just the slightest move of the head (listening and moving are here inseparable). The sounds heard are that bird call, and that bird call has heard by the performer through the binaural mics and the loudspeakers, and the increasing interactions between the two. Like all intimate situations, this simple one can rapidly, no, catastrophically, turn into a complex one.
When I first heard this piece -- early in the Volcker administration -- something suddenly came into focus when I realized that one could understand a piece of music as a path through an environment -- a set of materials and conditions and relationships --, a metaphor which has usefully stuck ever since.
On this cold, Iowa morning, I've been finding a lot of fun in reading through your musical landmarks series. And to answer your question from the beginning of this entry, there's one other piece that I think has stayed from the 60's-Berio's "Sequenza V". Although that might just be my preference...
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