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Sitting in a Room with Alvin Lucier
Wednesday, February 9, 2005—11 a.m.
A Conversation with Frank J. Oteri at Lucier’s pied-a-terre in Tudor City, NYC
Edited and transcribed by Frank J. Oteri and Molly Sheridan
Videotaped by Randy Nordschow
I still remember the first time I listened to I Am Sitting In A Room. As an undergrad eager to hear everything there was to hear of new music in the Columbia University Music Library, I had stumbled upon the various issues of SOURCE Magazine, an audiovisual compendium of new music which, to this day, inspires NewMusicBox. I was immediately captivated by the title: I Am Sitting In A Room. At that point, I had never heard of a piece of serious contemporary music with a title so mundane and personal. But my surprise over the title was nothing compared to the shock I experienced after putting the needle onto the groove. The composition was nothing more than a recording of Lucier speaking in a room and then having the recording played back over and over in the room until his speech turned into ethereal harmonies. So absurdly simple and even somewhat vulnerable, yet so unlike anything else… Wow, music could do this!
I soon played the recording on my radio show at WKCR. Someone I was training to use the equipment during my broadcast was appalled. What was it? How could I be playing such a thing on a classical music show? Of course, it made me an even bigger fan of this piece.
About a year later, I attended Columbia’s Varèse Centennial Symposium. Someone mentioned the name Alvin Lucier in one of the panels and people in the audience booed. I had to learn more about this man. Whenever a piece of Lucier’s appeared on a concert, I made sure to go. And whenever a new recording of his came out, I made sure to get it, even though most of his music is concerned with processes that are extremely difficult to convey on commercial 2-channel recordings.
Over the course of the hour I finally sat in a room with Alvin Lucier to talk about his music, I found the same simplicity and vulnerability. Here is a composer who admits that not all his pieces work, who is unafraid to explore, and is still searching for new ideas and is still finding them. Like that first time I heard I Am Sitting In A Room, I walked away in total awe.
(Text corrected October 2005)
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