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Alvin Lucier

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Alvin Lucier (born May 14, 1931) is an American composer of music and sound installations exploring acoustic phenomena, especially resonance, as well as a former member of the Sonic Arts Union along with Robert Ashley, David Behrman, and Gordon Mumma. As a self-acknowledged composer of experimental music, Lucier's compositions generally deal with some element of indeterminacy. Lucier was born in Nashua, New Hampshire and studied at Yale and Brandeis University and spent two years in Rome on a Fulbright Fellowship.

His pieces include Music On A Long Thin Wire in which a piano wire is strung across a room with magnets on either end, producing changing overtones and sounds, Crossings, in which tones played across a steadily rising sine wave produce interference beats, Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas in which the interference tones between sine waves create "troughs" and "valleys" of sound and silence, Music For Solo Performer, the first piece to use brain waves to produce sound, and Clocker, which uses biofeedback and reverberation.

One of Lucier's best known works is I am sitting in a room, in which Lucier records himself narrating a text, and then plays the recording back into the room, re-recording it. The new recording is then played back and re-recorded, and this process is repeated. Since all rooms have a characteristic resonance (eg. different between a large hall and a small room), the effect is that certain frequencies are emphasised as they resonate in the room, until eventually the words become unintelligible, replaced by the pure resonant harmonies and tones of the room itself. The recited text describes this process in action - it begins "I am sitting in a room, different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice...", and concludes with, "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," referring to his own stuttering.

Lucier had also specified that this performance may use alternate text, and may be recorded in any room.

Lucier's composition students include Nicolas Collins, Ron Kuivila, Arnold Dreyblatt, Daniel James Wolf, and Mladen Milosevic.


more online resources:

Notes on "I am sitting in a room."

The score begins: "choose a room the musical qualities of which you would like to evoke." A text is then read and recorded in that room; the recording is played back through a loudspeaker, and the playback itself recorded; and the cycle of playback and recording is continued through a variable number of generations.

As the text is repeated over and over into the room, the acoustic properties of the room assert themselves. Echoes elongate and smear the speech, and the resonances of the room enhance some of the frequencies present, while others are eliminated. Gradually, the speech is transformed into music: the text becomes a complex weave of pitches, based upon the intersections of the recorded voice and the resonant frequencies of the room.

By the end of the score, Lucier is explicitly licensing experiment with his basic process: "Make versions in which one recorded statement is recycled through many rooms. Make versions using one or more speakers of different languages in different rooms. Make versions in which, for each generation, the microphone is moved to different parts of the room or rooms. Make versions that can be performed in real time."


Text for "I am sitting in a room."

I am sitting in a room
the same room 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 resemblance of my speech
with perhaps the exception of rhythm
is destroyed
what you will here 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 to smooth out
any irregularities might speech might have

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