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Alvin Lucier

Alvin Lucier (born May 14, 1931) is an American ber Dance Company, a position he held until 1979.
composer of experimental music and sound installations
that explore acoustic phenomena and auditory percep-
tion. A long-time music professor at Wesleyan Univer- 2 Works
sity, Lucier was a member of the influential Sonic Arts
Union, which included Robert Ashley, David Behrman,
and Gordon Mumma. Much of his work is influenced Though Lucier had composed chamber and orchestral
by science and explores the physical properties of sound works since 1952, the composer and his critics count his
itself: resonance of spaces, phase interference between 1965 composition Music for Solo Performer as the proper
closely tuned pitches, and the transmission of sound beginning of his compositional career. In that piece,
through physical media. EEG electrodes attached to the performer’s scalp de-
tect bursts of alpha waves generated when the performer
achieves a meditative, non-visual brain state. These alpha
waves are amplified and the resulting electrical signal is
1 Early life used to vibrate percussion instruments distributed around
the performance space. Other important early pieces
Lucier was born in Nashua, New Hampshire. He was ed- include Vespers (composition)|Vespers (1968), in which
ucated in Nashua public and parochial schools and the performers use hand-held echolocation devices to locate
Portsmouth Abbey School, Yale University and Brandeis the approximate physical center of a room, to deepen
University. In 1958 and 1959, Lucier studied with their understanding of acoustical perception, and to re-
Lukas Foss and Aaron Copland at the Tanglewood Cen- veal the elements of environmental space through non-
ter. In 1960, Lucier left for Rome on a Fulbright Fel- visual means.
lowship, where he befriended American expatriate com-
poser Frederic Rzewski and witnessed performances by
John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and David Tudor that 2.1 I Am Sitting in a Room
provided compelling alternatives to his classical training.
He returned from Rome in 1962 to take up a position at One of Lucier’s most important and best-known works
Brandeis as director of the University Chamber Chorus, is I Am Sitting in a Room (1969), in which Lucier records
which presented classical vocal works alongside modern himself narrating a text, and then plays the recording back
compositions and new commissions. into the room, re-recording it. The new recording is then
played back and re-recorded, and this process is repeated.
At a 1963 Chamber Chorus concert at New York’s Town
Since all rooms have a characteristic resonance (e.g., be-
Hall, Lucier met Gordon Mumma and Robert Ashley,
tween a large hall and a small room), the effect is that
experimental composers who were also directors of the
certain frequencies are gradually emphasized as they res-
ONCE Festival, an annual multi-media event in Ann Ar-
onate in the room, until eventually the words become un-
bor, Michigan. A year later, Mumma and Ashley invited
intelligible, replaced by the pure resonant harmonies and
the Chamber Chorus to the ONCE Festival; and, in 1966,
tones of the room itself. The recited text describes this
Lucier reciprocated by inviting Mumma, Ashley, and mu-
process in action. It begins, “I am sitting in a room, dif-
tual friend David Behrman to Brandeis for a concert of
ferent from the one you are in now. I am recording the
works by the four composers. Based on the success of
sound of my speaking voice…”, and concludes with “I
that concert, Lucier, Mumma, Ashley, and Behrman em-
regard this activity not so much as a demonstration of a
barked on a tour of the United States and Europe under
physical fact, but more as a way to smooth out any ir-
the name the Sonic Arts Group (at Ashley’s suggestion,
regularities my speech might have,” referring to his own
the name was later changed to the Sonic Arts Union).
More a musical collective than a proper quartet, the Sonic
Arts Union presented works by each of its members, shar-
ing equipment and assisting when necessary. Performing 2.2 Other key pieces
and touring together for a decade, the Sonic Arts Union
became inactive in 1976. Other key pieces include North American Time Capsule
In 1970, Lucier left Brandeis for Wesleyan University. In (1966), which employed a prototype vocoder to isolate
1972, Lucier became a musical director of the Viola Far- and manipulate elements of speech; Music On A Long


Thin Wire (1977), in which a piano wire is strung across • Music for Solo Performer, Lovely Music, Ltd. LP
a room and activated by an amplified oscillator and mag- 1014, 1982
nets on either end, producing changing overtones and
sounds; Crossings (1982),[2] in which tones play across • Bird and Person Dyning/The Duke of York, Cramps,
a steadily rising sine wave producing interference beats; 1975
Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbo-
• Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hy-
las (1973–74), in which the interference tones between
perbolas, Nick Hennies, Quiet Design CD Alas011,
sine waves create “troughs” and “valleys” of sound and
silence; and Clocker (1978), which uses biofeedback and
reverberation. • “Music for Alpha Waves, Assorted Percussion, and
Automated Coded Relays”, on Imaginary Land-
scapes, Elektra/Nonesuch 79235-2, 1989
3 Students
• “Vespers”, on Electronic Sound, Mainstream MS-
5010, 1971
For Lucier’s notable students, see List of music students
by teacher: K to M § Alvin Lucier. • “Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra”, Nick Hennies,
on Psalms Roeba, CD #8, 2010

• "North American Time Capsule", on Music of Our

4 Honorary Doctorate Time series, CBS Odyssey Records, 1967

• "I am sitting in a room", on SOURCE Record #3,

Lucier was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from 1970
Plymouth University in 2007.
• "Music On A Long Thin Wire" [excerpt] on OHM:
The Early Gurus of Electronic Music, 2000. 3CD.
5 Discography • “Self Portrait”, on Upper Air Observation, Barbara
Held, flute, Lovely Music, Ltd. CD 3031, 1992
• Orchestra Works, New World Records CD 80755-2,
2013 • “Nothing is Real” on Hyper Beatles 2, Eastworld,
• Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hy-
perbolas, 1-12, Lovely Music, Ltd. CD 1015, 2004
• Navigations for Strings/Small Waves, Mode Records, 6 Films
CD 124, 2003
• Still Lives, Lovely Music, Ltd. CD 5012, 2001 • 1976 - Music With Roots in the Aether: Opera for
Television. Tape 3: Alvin Lucier. Produced and
• Theme, Lovely Music, Ltd. CD 5011, 1999 directed by Robert Ashley. New York, New York:
Lovely Music.
• Panorama, Lovely Music, Ltd. CD 1012, 1997
• Fragments for Strings, Arditti String Quartet, Dis-
ques Montaigne, 1996 7 Notes
• Clocker, Lovely Music, Ltd. CD 1019, 1994
• Music On A Long Thin Wire, Lovely Music, Ltd. room_mp3
LP/CD 1011, 1980/92
[2] Mailman 2013, pp. 137–140.
• Crossings, Lovely Music, Ltd. CD 1018, 1990
• I am Sitting in a Room, Lovely Music, Ltd. LP/CD
1013, 1981/90 8 Bibliography
• Sferics, Lovely Music, Ltd. LP 1017, 1988 • Cox, Christoph. “The Alien Voice: Alvin Lucier’s
• Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hy- North American Time Capsule.” In Mainframe Ex-
perbolas, 5-8, Lovely Music, Ltd. LP 1016, 1985 perimentalism: Early Computing and the Founda-
tions of the Digital Arts. Edited by Hannah Higgins
• Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hy- and Douglas Kahn. Berkeley: University of Califor-
perbolas, 1-4, Lovely Music, Ltd. LP 1015, 1983 nia Press, 2009.
10.2 Movies 3

• Lucier, Alvin. “Reflections: Interviews, Scores, • Music for Piano with One or More Snare Drums
Writings 1965–1994.” Köln: Edition MusikTexte, (1990) by Alvin Lucier, performed by Hildegard
1995. Kleeb

• Lucier, Alvin. “Origins of a Form: Acoustic Ex- • Island (1998) performed by The Other Minds En-
ploration, Science and Incessancy.” Leonardo Music semble at the Other Minds Music Festival in 1999
Journal 8 (December 1998) — “Ghosts and Mon- at Cowell Theater in San Francisco.
sters: Technology and Personality in Contemporary
• Nothing Is Real (Strawberry Fields Forever) (1990)
Music,” pp. 5–11.
performed by Margaret Leng Tan at the Other
• Mailman, Joshua B. "Agency, Determinism, Focal Minds Music Festival in 1999 at the Cowell Theater
Time Frames, and Processive Minimalist Music,” in San Francisco.
Music and Narrative since 1900. Edited by Michael
• Sferics excerpt at Architectural Association radio
L. Klein and Nicholas Reyland. Musical Mean-
program curated by Charles Stankievech.
ing and Interpretation series. Bloomington: Indiana
University Press, 2013. • I Am Sitting in a Room Recreation, from Internet
• Moore, Thomas. “Alvin Lucier in Conversation
with Thomas Moore.” 1983. • Queen of the South Video performance
at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute - Eye-
9 Further reading • I am sitting in a room A performance using the
acoustics of the Inchindown oil tanks that hold the
• eContact! 14.2 — Biotechnological Performance world record for the 'longest echo'
Practice / Pratiques de performance biotech-
nologique (July 2012). Montréal: Canadian
Electroacoustic Community. 10.2 Movies
• Music with Roots in the Aether (1975) from
10 External links
• Alvin Lucier’s website (Wesleyan University)

• Alvin Lucier scores published by Material Press

• Lovely Music Artist: Alvin Lucier

• CDeMUSIC: Alvin Lucier

• Volume: Bed of Sound: Alvin Lucier

• Alvin Lucier in conversation with Thomas Moore

• NewMusicBox: "Sitting in a Room with Alvin

Lucier" (April 1, 2005). Alvin Lucier in conversa-
tion with Frank J. Oteri on February 9, 2005.

• I am sitting in a room (1969) by Alvin Lucier real-

time realization by Christopher Burns (2000)

• Alvin Lucier discography at MusicBrainz

• Alvin Lucier papers, 1939-2015 Music Division,

The New York Public Library.

10.1 Listening
• UBUWeb - includes original 1969 recording of “I
Am Sitting In A Room”

11 Text and image sources, contributors, and licenses

11.1 Text
• Alvin Lucier Source: Contributors: Deb, Camembert, Viajero, Dysprosia,
Hyacinth, Ortonmc, Denelson83, Twang, Bearcat, Clngre, BigHaz, Jamieca, Arcturus, Fishtorte, D6, Rich Farmbrough, Bender235, Cmdr-
jameson, Kanito~enwiki, Ceyockey, Graham87, Kane5187, Kibibu, YurikBot, Badagnani, Harro, Rwxrwxrwx, Closedmouth, Katieh5584,
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night, Shirt58, CacHA, Magioladitis, T@nn, Waacstats, Arfan, JaGa, Zerostuko, Shawn in Montreal, Aformalevent, Just Jim Dandy,
VoxNovus, HelenDanforth, Maelgwnbot, Stfg, Xic667, Addbot, Squandermania, Yobot, TheFinalSay, AnomieBOT, ArthurBot, Nynewart,
Sionk, FrescoBot, Acs272, RjwilmsiBot, Beyond My Ken, 0000ff, ZéroBot, Lotusleaves, Pjbdjk, Reedmanwiki, Jmailman, Toccata quarta,
EXNYCTATO, Plymouth Alumni, Heraclites, KasparBot, Aleaxwordernen, Various Table Manners, HappyValleyEditor and Anonymous:

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