Critic’s Pick: Charles Curtis plays Alvin Lucier and Eliane Radique


The West Hollywood weather forecast for Saturday at 5 is in the 70s. It should be pleasant at the Kings Road Park Pavillion, where cellist Charles Curtis will play the Los Angeles premiere of Alvin Lucier’s “Glacier,” in the “sound.” series presented by SASSAS (Society for the Activation of Social Space through Art and Sound). But don’t expect to be lulled into climate indifference.

The 83-year-old American avant-garde composer has a special sonic and theatrical knack for finding a physical equivalent in sound to the world around us. In this recent score, he makes audible a graph of 30 glaciers melting, charting on the cello their decline between 1980 and 2004. It is a quiet piece and a sad one. But it is also an extremely delicate and endearingly lovely one.

Lucier is a composer who toys with slight impurities in acoustic space. He fiddles with the sounds of brain waves. In “Slices” for cello and orchestra (which Curtis has recently recorded for New World) the orchestra plays a thick chord that includes all 53 pitches possible on the cello. Individual notes are then erased and extraordinary sonorities arise, ones you would never expect.


In “Glacier,” strange artifacts occur from seemingly pure tones. That they can be quite beautiful only makes them more unsettling. The big climate events easily get our attention. But what Lucier makes real are the tiny erosions constantly occurring. These are the ones we overlook, yet they present the greatest danger.

A cellist known for his association with composers who create luminous clouds of sound, Curtis will also offer Saturday the Los Angeles premiere of French composer Eliane Radigue’s “Occam 5,” another avant-garde elder with a unique, otherworldly drone language developed through electronics and transferred to acoustical instruments.