The Resonating Room Tones Of Composer Alvin Lucier

Alvin Lucier is one of the giant figures in experimental, electronic and electro-acoustic music, known for “making the inaudible…audible.” 

Last week, he turned 90, and the celebration included a 27 hour marathon of his most famous piece, “I Am Sitting In A Room.” The piece, first recorded in 1969, is very simple in concept but deceptively complex. It consists of a short passage of text, read aloud in a room. That sound is recorded and then played back into that same room, picked up by the same microphone, over and over, until the room resonancerenders the speech otherworldly and unintelligible. In fact, the instructions are the text itself:

“I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice and I am going to play it back into the room again and again until the resonant frequencies of the room reinforce themselves so that any semblance of my speech, with perhaps the exception of rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but, more as a way to smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.”

Lucier’s speech has long been defined by a stutter, which you hear in early recordings. Today, his voice has grown weak from more than a decade of Parkinson’s disease.

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