Alvin Lucier – I Am Sitting In A Room

March 29, 2007

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 rr-r-rhythm, is destroyed. What you will hear then are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech. I regard this activity, nnnnnnot so much as a demonstration of a physical fact, but more as a way to su-sm-smooth out any irregularities my speech might have.

I Am Sitting In A Room is hardly music. In fact, it is hardly a creative effort. I want to call Lucier a genius for producing this, because it is in fact ingenious, but to be honest he really did nothing. The process that was taken to produce this album was surely simple and easy, and yet there is little as priceless as this recording when it comes to modern day technological experiments. This recording tells us worlds about both ourselves and the world that we live in, subtly, and without any real proof or backup other than itself. What I just reproduced above this paragraph is all the listener hears for the length of the album. And yet, it really isn’t. The process speaks for itself. Alvin, a post modern musical craftsman of sorts, recorded his voice on a simple tape machine. He has a very ordinary voice. It is creepy at first, and it sounds like it might be the voice of a narrator on TV from the fifties who introduces horror flicks. His voice does end up being relaxing and quaint, and he has a small studder, which is nice because it puts a personal touch into the sounds. He speaks clearly and slowly, so that you understand him.

What then happens is the audio track is played back, in the same room, into another tape recorder. What results is the recording of Alvin Lucier recording himself speaking. This tape is then played in the same room and recorded, resulting in a tape of a recording of a recording of Alvin Lucier recording himself speaking. The whole work consists of these cycles, each taking a little more than a minute, the album being over forty minutes. Every time his voice is re-recorded, it seems as if it deteriorates. Even by the second segment, his voice sounds a little “farther back,” as if he was speaking to you through a long hallway. By the third segment, the echo is much more apparent and there is a certain recognizable rasp in the voice. This goes on, for over forty minutes. And what he told you what would happen does happen. In ten minutes, the voice is extremely deteriorated. By twenty, unintelligible and instead a rhythmic mass of what seems to be synthesizers. By thirty, a flowing tonal ambient atmosphere.

The mastery of this is not apparent. It is not easy to understand and it is not necessarily the most enjoyable listen you will come in contact with. There is no beat and thus no driving force. But what you hear throughout the extent of this album transforms beautifully. By the end of the recording, you are no longer hearing Alvin Lucier’s voice, although it is still there. You are hearing a room. You are hearing the room Alvin Lucier is sitting in. And you are hearing the rooms natural resonant frequencies. This is the voice of the room, at it’s purest. Alvin Lucier just happens to be sitting in it, speaking, but the focus is no longer on him. His voice lets the room speak. And what is really amazing about this is the nature of the final result. It is musical in many respects. Once again, there is no real beat or solid rhythm so the listen is only as compelling as any other ambient work you have heard with no beats, but the result is decidedly musical. The feedback and vocal soundscapes create chords, tiny jingles, and interesting pairings throughout the extent of the recording.

This is Alvin Lucier sitting in a room, recording the sound of his speaking voice, and playing it back over and over again. Everything he says is true, and more. What happens over forty five minutes of this is unspeakably interesting. On the first listen this album is bland and boring, but upon further listens it truly opens up. This is not art. This is simply a room. To understand this record is truly great, and to come back later and hear the transformation again is fascinating. What this tells us is that we are doing more than speaking during everyday conversation. Really, we are vaguely singing, in some alien way. And it also tells us that everything around us is very quietly singing at all times. It tells us that everything is musical. Once again, this was probably not hard to record. Anyone with two tape recorders and a few tapes could have done this, and with other sounds than the human voice. You could probably use pianos, water droplets, a singing voice, a violin, a city, ANYTHING. And people have. People have vaguely changed the formula since this recording was made in 1970. That is how we got Frippertronics, sort of, created by Brian Eno and Robert Fripp. The playback of of two recorders using guitar in a room, bouncing off of one another. Or what about the Silver Session for Jason Knuth by Sonic Youth? Where the band members essentially turned all their amps up to full blast, left the room, and recorded the result? These are just a few small examples of what this recording has the potential of teaching musicians. This is Alvin Lucier sitting in a room, different from the room you are in now. I wonder what the room you are in now sounds like.

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