Friday, May 8, 2009

Alvin Lucier - I Am Sitting In A Room (1970)

Alvin Lucier is a composer who has always straddled the precarious line between art and science. His works usually consist of practical demonstrations of physical phenomena, and yet they always provide a fascinating, surprisingly musical listening experience.

In "I Am Sitting In A Room," the composer reads a short speech, then plays the tape back into the same room and rerecords it. This process is repeated over and over again, with the result that the sound quality gradually decays and the frequencies that are naturally amplified by the physical space are the only things that remain. In this way, Lucier is effectively "playing" the room, and the results would be different for any given enclosed space.

The performance on this disc lasts about forty-five minutes. At about the fifteen minute mark, most of the actual words are unintelligible, and the speech has taken on a somewhat melodic, almost bell-like sound. Lucier has a slight stutter, and it is interesting to hear how this factors into the sounds we ultimately end up hearing. For example, a stuttered "S" sound persists much longer than most of the other consonants, because of its fundamental lack of pitch. So even towards the end of the piece we are able to hear the occasional "s- s- sss" which then becomes something of a rhythmic figure.

The simplicity of the concept and ease of execution make "I Am Sitting In A Room" a fascinating classic of electro-acoustic music, not to mention its hypnotic qualities for the listener. This is something that could be reproduced by any of us at home, and remember that it need not be with a voice. Similar results could be achieved with an instrument, a band, a portion of a movie soundtrack or really anything that makes a sound. Try it for yourself and see!

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