Alvin Lucier Alvin Lucier

I am Sitting in a Room (1969)

“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.”

I am Sitting in a Room

This piece is probably Lucier’s best known composition. Its stunning formal stringency in the acoustical exploration of the specific resonances of a room makes it one of the “classical” pieces of 20th-century art and a prototype of process-based music. Originally conceived and realized as a tape piece in 1969, Lucier later often performed it live, the first time in 1995 at the Deutschlandfunk studios in Cologne. In one of our interviews, Lucier describes in detail how he got the idea for the piece and realized it for the first time. This uncut 10-minute shot is among the bonus features of the DVD.
One of the most elegant aspects of the piece is that it is completely self-explanatory. The performer is “sitting in a room,” reading a text that explains what is going to happen in the piece. This is recorded and in the next step played back and re-recorded in the same room. This procedure is repeated several times, and with each step the frequencies of the voice that match the resonances of the room are enhanced, while others are diminished. The space acts as a filter. “What you will hear, then, are the natural resonant frequencies of the room articulated by speech.”
During the piece there is a crucial shift from intelligibility to unintelligibility, when acoustic perception suddenly changes from cognitive, text-based listening to musical listening, to hearing the resonances of the room. Lucier himself compares this turning point with the climax in traditional music.
Considering the subjective perspective of the text (“I am Sitting in a Room”), the process also involves a shift from the subject to its surroundings – thus adding a new and lovely variation to one of the oldest problems in art, the “figure-ground relationship.”
The touch of self-irony in the last lines of the text, where Lucier alludes to his own stuttering – “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” – conveys the originality that stands out in so many of Lucier’s pieces. Having performed the piece for so many times, however, Lucier now doesn’t stutter anymore when reading the text.
For the realization of I AM SITTING IN A ROOM, we wanted to find a visual parallel to the acoustical process. In order to do so, we decided to zoom out the camera angle with the ongoing process, so that both in sound and vision the room becomes more and more audible/visible while the individual disappears. The single process steps would divide the film into chapters.
After these formal decisions, we looked for a suitable room, and with a bit of research on the Web we found one just in Lucier’s nearest surroundings: The Crowell Hall at Wesleyan University, in which Lucier has performed throughout his career, was a perfect match. The backbone of our film was there!