WTF?! Wednesdays: Alvin Lucier, “I Am Sitting In A Room” (1969)

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Now here’s a rather famous piece of process music. Composer Alvin Lucier teases out the resonant frequencies of a room by taping a recitation of a piece of text, playing that recording back out into the room, and then continuing on in a sort of infinite regression. At first the voice takes on a fuller quality, but then is taken over by the drones locked into the walls of the space.

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.

There are two points I find interesting in this original recording. The first is when the words are no longer recognizable, but the rhythms of speech remain. Later on, we only have swelling, reverberant sound. It has its own inner beauty.

Some people will say this “is not music!” I would have to disagree with them. Sure, look in the dictionary and find something about “organized sound.” Or trot out all that Western stuff about melody and harmony being requirements. I lean more toward the late Frank Zappa, who thought that if you perceive something as music…then it is.

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Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski

Mark Saleski is a writer and music obsessive based out of the woods of central New Hampshire. A past contributor to Jazz.com, Blogcritics.org and Salon, he originated several of our weekly features including the Friday Morning Listen, (Cross the) Heartland, WTF! Wednesday, and Sparks Fly on E Street. Follow him on Twitter: @msaleski. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Mark Saleski
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