Menu Close

Alvin Lucier turns 90.

On Friday 14 May the American composer Alvin Lucier (Nashua, New Hampshire) turns ninety. To mark the occasion, The ISSUE Project Room – the alternative cultural space in Brooklyn known as “little Carnegie” – has organised a commemorative programme that will begin at 2 a.m. Spanish time on Friday the 14th (8 p.m. New York time on Thursday the 13th) and will last for almost thirty hours straight.
The programme can be followed by streaming through its website, and consists of the participation of ninety artists who will stage their own versions of the composer’s most paradigmatic work, I Am Sitting in a Room, a piece composed in 1969. The celebration will begin with Lucier himself, in a recording from November 2017, performing his work. This will be followed, approximately every twenty minutes and in strict alphabetical order by first name, by a series of personalities chosen by the composer himself from among his closest friends and family, including his daughter, the photojournalist Amanda Lucier (Friday 14, at 02:19); the essayist and composer David Toop (Friday 14, at 07: 46), Yo La Tengo singer and guitarist Ira Kaplan (10:55), singer Joan La Barbara (14:38), pioneering minimalist composer La Monte Young (16:31) and his wife, artist Marian Zazeela (17: 38), composer and choreographer Meredith Monk (19:29), theatre director and set designer Robert “Bob” Wilson (22:53), composer Steve Reich (00:28 on Saturday 15) and Sonic Youth founder Thurston Moore (02:32). The programme is expected to conclude at 4:17 a.m. on Saturday the 15th, with a performance by Wendy Stokes, the current wife of Alvin Lucier.

I Am Sitting in a Room originally consisted of Lucier’s voice recording Lucier narrating a text describing what was to follow: “I am sitting in a different room from the one you are in now. I am going to record the sound of my voice and play it back into the room over and over again until the resonant frequencies of the room are fed back, so that all aspects of my speech, with the exception perhaps of rhythm, are gradually destroyed. What will be heard, then, will be the natural resonant frequencies of the room generated by the speech. I see this activity not so much as a verification of a physical fact, but rather as a way of smoothing out any irregularities in my speech”.

As all rooms have particular resonant frequencies (for example, the different frequencies of a large and a small room), the effect is that certain frequencies are accentuated as they resonate in the room, until eventually the words become unintelligible, being replaced by pure harmonies and the resonant tones of the room itself. In his book on the origins of minimalism – Minimalism: Origins (Indiana University Press, 1993) – Edward Strickland described that “In its repetition and limited means, I Am Sitting in a Room ranks among the major works of minimalist music for tape recorder. Moreover, by its ambient conversion of brief fragments of speech into drone frequencies, it unifies the two main structural components of minimalist music.”

Friend and colleague of John Cage, Pauline Oliveros or David Tudor, among many others, Lucier occupies a prominent place in the history of experimental music. He was for many years a professor of music at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, and was a founder, along with Robert Ashley, David Behrman and Gordon Mumma, of the influential (but now defunct) Sonic Arts Union. Much of his work is influenced by science and explores the physical properties of sound: the resonance of spaces, phase interference between closely tuned tones, and the transmission of sound through physical media.