Editor’s Note: The following piece was a reaction piece written for a class immediately following listening to an experimental musical composition by Alvin Lucier entitled “I Am Sitting in a Room”. It is not intended as a historical account of its making nor a specific review, but a diary of thoughts.
Alvin Lucier makes clear that he is sitting in a room. But it is different from the one you are in now. Over endless minutes as his words morph and devolve into sheer pulses, they become a cloaking of sound, a dim fog that seems to hang over just about any room you happen to be in.
Lucier also has a stutter, and in his monologue we immediately become attuned to it and his desire to make it vanish. By the end of “I Am Sitting in a Room,” everything has been equalized, evened out by nature and no more irregular than anything else.
And yet Lucier’s phrasing of “destroyed” seems harsh. It is the one word that appears to sustain longer than anything else, but “evaporating” feels far more apt. This is a spoken word piece that over time does become virtually musical, a heat map of burning colors that resonate in your mind.
We lose track of the number of times his monologue repeats, the words and the tones all seeping together. It is entirely abstract and does not sound remotely natural, and in a remarkable irony everything we hear is natural. It is not “enjoyable” so much as it is a fascinating experiment. But not unlike John Cage’s “4:33,” we become hyper aware of the spaces and empty silence between words and sounds. “I Am Sitting in a Room” transforms into faint alien synths, lingering, spiritual, ethereal and eerily soothing.
Lucier does put us through an act of enduring, tolerating and awaiting for the piece to fade into nothingness or to be jolted to an end with a deafening click of a tape recorder. As these words continue to flicker for life, the sounds clinging and emanating far longer than seems necessary, the mind begins to wander. How might this piece play differently in another room, or how might the room you’re in influence the experience of being enveloped by it?
And can we still visualize Lucier sitting there in that room, different from our own? Lucier shows that there is no room, and given long enough, everything fades until wisps are all that remain.