Alvin Lucier, American avant-garde composer, dies aged 90

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Alvin Lucier, the composer whose explorations of the physical properties of sound made him a significant figure in the US avant-garde, has died aged 90.

His daughter said the cause was complications after a fall, according to the New York Times. His ex-wife Mary Lucier wrote: “The great Alvin Lucier has died. Long live Alvin Lucier.”

Born in New Hampshire in 1931, Lucier had a prestigious musical schooling, at Yale and then Brandeis universities, before heading to Rome on a Fulbright scholarship. His classical training was diversified after he saw a concert there in 1960, with John Cage, David Tudor and Merce Cunningham, who were exploring the creative possibilities of chance.

It helped to inform a highly progressive style of composition, with Lucier employing technology such as brain sensors and echolocation to generate sonic outputs. He explored the intensity of sound waves themselves and their placement alongside one another, and allowed the acoustics and architecture of performance space to inform his work.

Significant works include I Am Sitting in a Room (1969), a piece that begins with Lucier saying: “I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed.” A recording of the speech is then played back and re-recorded, with the process repeated until the words blur into those resonant frequencies.

Another celebrated piece is 1977’s Music on a Long Thin Wire, where a wire is stretched across a space, with contact microphones and other equipment picking up vibrations and generating sound. Lucier left the near-sculptural setup alone after it was installed, including a five-day performance in an Albuquerque shopping centre. “Fatigue, air currents, heating and cooling, even human proximity could cause the wire to undergo enormous changes,” he observed, which typified how his music was rooted in unpredictable shifts in the immediate environment.

He continued to compose work alongside teaching at Wesleyan University, whose faculty he joined in 1970.

These exploratory works were influential on leftfield music globally – contemporary musicians such as Holly Herndon, clipping, David Grubbs and Richard Youngs were among those paying tribute to Lucier on social media.

Lucier is survived by his daughter Amanda and wife Wendy Stokes.

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