Opera with Objects

Alvin Lucier: Opera for Objects (1997) | International Contemporary Ensemble and FAR NORTH // THE DISKOTEK from ICE on Vimeo.

While assembling documentation of Alvin Lucier’s work for my sound art class at TCD, I found this ICE performance on Vimeo of Alvin Lucier’s Opera with Objects. There are a number of performances of Opera online. But it seems to me that this one engages something of the work that others miss.

For a start, it’s performed outdoors. The sight of floating ice, to the right of the frame, fossilizes the algid ‘snap’ of the chopsticks. The visuality of the performance renders the sound osseous and frail. This is canny because it necessitates some form of resonant amplification for the beating. The mise en scene validates the purpose of those objects. Cold, bone-like sound needs plenty of volume.

But what interests me even more about this video is the particulate nature of the group’s performance: 1; 1+1; 1 + (1+1) etc. Lucier’s piece is a meditation on physical contiguity in the production of sound: the possibility of one vibrating object exploiting the resonant properties of another. The quality of that amplification is a function of the object’s nature. Opera with Objects is also an ensemble piece. At 03:10, there are eleven players. One enters, two rise, then three, four, five. Some players move around. Two kneel, to connect with certain objects. Another player enters. So what we see is a series of configurations of individuals. With each new grouping, a new configuration (i.e. connection: network, even) is formed. And so we get these parallel situations: chopsticks + object;  (player + chopstick) * M + same * N. The connection inheres through the performance situation as it does through the contiguity of objects. 

I’d like the camera to come off grip and get right in with the performers – to step across the line. It seems to me the wide shot (and occasional close-up) are rather passive, treating the action as if it were a concert on stage, in a hall. I wonder what it would be like to get the reverse shot – to get right in amongst the performers, break up the ensemble and bring out those configurations. 

Even so, this is amongst the best of the Opera performances/documentation I’ve come across so far.