Alvin Lucier, Experimental Composer, Dies at 90


Experimental composer Alvin Lucier has died at the age of 90 at his home in Middletown, Connecticut, The New York Times reports. Mary Lucier, the composer’s former wife and collaborator, shared the news on Facebook earlier today (December 1). Lucier’s daughter Amanda Lucier later told The Times that the cause of death was complications after a fall. Lucier was known for his avant-garde works and installations, which sometimes involved brain waves, room acoustics, and other unexpected sources for sound.

Alvin Lucier was born in 1931 in Nashua, New Hampshire. He studied music theory and composition at Yale and furthered his education at Brandeis University. In 1960, Lucier set off to Rome on a Fullbright Fellowship. During his time abroad, Lucier took in performances by experimentalists such as John Cage, David Tudor, and Merce Cunningham.

In 1962, Lucier returned to Brandeis, where he taught and conducted the Brandeis University Chamber Chorus. He remained at his post there until 1970, when he left to become a professor of music at Wesleyan University. In 1966, he became a member of the Sonic Arts Union alongside composers like David Behrman, Robert Ashley, and Gordon Mumma.

Later in his life, Lucier’s work was sometimes referred to as “post-Cage” for its boundary-pushing nature. Though his education was rooted in classical methods, Lucier went on to experiment with spatial acoustics, particularly in his 1969 piece I Am Sitting in a Room. The work features a spoken phrase that is recorded, played into a room, and re-recorded repeatedly until the words become a series of unintelligible noises. The piece was highly influential and eventually purchased by New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

Lucier recorded dozens of works in his decades-long career. Earlier this year, he issued Music for Piano XL with French pianist Nicolas Horvath. His impact on the world of experimental music has been massive, and he is often named alongside peers such as Cage, Philip Glass, and Steve Reich regarding the enrichment of avant-garde music.


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