I was settling in with the austere and almost inaudible Vespers, a collection of experimental composer Alvin Lucier's work that appeared in 2002 or so. I am very into Lucier at the moment. His work involves taking a simple acoustic phenomenon, like feedback in a room or the natural oscillations of wires, and creates pieces that find an eerie but palpable poetry in them.
I was listening to "(Middletown) Memory Space" where a number of performers are asked to go out into a city, record the ambient sounds, and then return to the studio and recreate that recording using instruments and voice. The results are a low-key hodgepodge of plunks and hums, with an occasional expressionistic flourish from the piano. I turned it up, started fixing lunch, musing on how to turn this into a book or something when I noticed that the piano was suddenly loud and playing this repetitive, vaguely Latin rhythm, over and over, drowning out the scuffs and whirrs of the rest of the ensemble. I was surprised that Alvin, despite being one of the few composers to possess any sense of humor, was allowing such a brash cartoonish passage on his record.
I figured maybe the performers went somewhere near a train platform and were trying to express the train going by, albeit in a rather obvious , corny way for such a heady piece. I tried to rewind it in iTunes to see how the piece transitioned from blurs to this vivid recreation, but the piano seemed unaffected when I was moving the bar! I thought maybe iTunes is messing up, because the piano just kept playing and stopped only when I advanced to the next track.
I went back to the track and scanned the piece for the piano medley, and all I could find was the static disjointed hush of the performers. I started to worry that I was somehow making this up, when I nudged the touchpad on the laptop and it started up again, but this time with a very familiar voice saying "Come on! Try it!." Turns out the Dora the Explorer game my daughter was playing earlier had been running in the background all morning, and all it took was a nudge to push it to the forefront.