Lucier ’54 premieres piece at art gallery

Visual art and music came together to honor American artist Sol LeWitt at the Yale University Art Gallery on Thursday night.

At a gallery performance, sound artist Alvin Lucier ’54 premiered a four-minute musical composition inspired by LeWitt’s “Wall Drawing Number 11,” which is on view in the gallery lobby. Other pieces from past collaborations between LeWitt and Lucier were shown with slides of LeWitt’s visual work and recordings of Lucier’s compositions.

LeWitt and Lucier have collaborated on many similar compositions over the past few decades, Lucier said. The piece performed last night was the first Lucier had composed since LeWitt died in April.

“It was a tribute and a way to do something for him,” Lucier said.

“Wall Drawing Number 11” appears up close to be an optical illusion. Diagonal lines cut through its dominant grid-like pattern of hundreds of boxes. The drawing is split into four quarters of lines and has four different line types: vertical, horizontal and two types of diagonal.

LeWitt usually only wrote the instructions for his wall drawings — such as the two currently on view in the gallery lobby — which were executed by other artists.

Lucier said the hardest part of composing the piece was figuring out how to convey the idea of vertical lines, which have no time, in music. The sounds of the four instruments — a clarinet, a cello and two violins — represented the four quarters of the wall drawing, he said.

The result was a piece — played twice — that went through steady streams of the string instruments, accompanied by the occasional overlapping notes of the clarinet.

The performers, who received a first version of the score Monday, said they were surprised to find out just hours before the performance that Lucier had changed the music.

Lucier said the piece was simple to compose but that he did not find a way to make a portion of the music work until early Thursday morning.

“I changed it because it didn’t work before … for technical reasons,” Lucier said. “My problem was to get vertical sound and there was no way to do that. So when I thought of an idea, I changed [the composition] this morning.”

Yoshiaki Onishi MUS ’08, who played clarinet in the four-minute piece, said performing a composition inspired by art was a “Zen-like, meditative experience.”

Onishi said he was pleased with the casual style of the performance because it gave the musicians the opportunity to receive guidance from the composer.

“It was a way to participate in the visceral experience of music creation,” Onishi said. “For this performance, the method worked very well.”

The performance attracted dozens of students, faculty and locals.

Marc Guberman ARC ’08 said he avoided seeing LeWitt’s piece before the performance because he wanted to hear Lucier’s interpretation before coming up with his own.

He said he was pleased with the performance, but he wished a better-defined melody had emerged.

“I would have liked a little more music,” Guberman said. “But I think it was amazing. … It’s really hard stuff to play because they had to keep the pitch steady for so long.”

Graphic design student Roxanne Zargham ART ’08 said she was familiar with LeWitt’s work already but that the music inspired her to think about it in a new way.

“It makes you think about how else you can interpret the drawing in your own art form,” Zargham said.

Lucier said he enjoys frequently creating short musical pieces.

“I would rather compose than listen to my music,” Lucier said. “[Composing] is more of a lifeblood thing. You just feel terrific doing the creating.”

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