Hauke Harder: Alvin Lucier

Alvin Lucier

Hauke Harder

· ·
April 29, 2016 8:00 pm

Hauke harder, long-term collaborator with American composer Alvin Lucier performs two of his seminal pieces: i am sitting in a room (1969) and music for solo performer (1965)

I’m sitting in a room (1969)

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.

In 1969 American composer Alvin Lucier first performed his landmark work I am sitting in a room, conceived for voice and electromagnetic tape. Lucier read a text into a microphone. Attempting to smooth out his stutter, he began with the lines, “I am sitting in a room, the same one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice.” as described in the text, his voice was recorded, then played back into the room. This process was repeated, and with each iteration, Lucier’s recorded speech grew muddled, sounding distant, and specific sonic frequencies started to dominate the recorded sound. These tones that began to overwhelm the text and abstract the sonic landscape are the room’s resonant frequencies and are entirely specific to the architectural particularity of a given space. As these frequencies grew, reinforced with each playback, the result was an erasure of the human performer and the dominance of environmental music.

Music for a solo performer (1965)

in 1965 Alvin Lucier met the scientist Edmond Dewan who was investigating alpha brainwaves. Dewan asked Lucier if he would be interested in using his equipment to detect alpha waves in order to use them for a piece of music. Lucier, at that time not composing at all, seized the opportunity. In thinking about what to do with brain waves in musical terms, he realized that alpha waves are so low (around 8-13 cycles per second) that it would be more straightforward to think of them as rhythms and to create a piece for percussion. Alpha waves are produced only with eyes closed, in a relaxed mental state, without any activity. Considering this, Lucier decided to “take a dangerous course which is to sit on stage and try to produce alpha waves, live, in front of the audience.” this means that once the electrodes are attached to his head, the performer has to sit on stage without doing anything. Eventually, his brain will enter the alpha state. The brainwaves are constantly picked up with the electrodes and amplified with a brain wave amplifier. A filter allows only the alpha waves to pass through. Then the signal is split into several channels, and each channel is amplified and routed to a loudspeaker. The cones of the speakers follow the alpha rhythm and make percussion instruments sound, either by hitting them directly or by the motion of the air. One or two assistants control the volume of the individual channels, and in doing so determine the musical shape of the piece.