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How to Wreck a Nice Speech: Alvin Lucier's Distorted Legacy

Patrick Liddell's "I Am Sitting In A Video Room" tests digital video tech. Back in 1969, American composer, Alvin Lucier performed a similar experience with analog audio with his composition “I am sitting in a room,” for voice and electromagnetic tape.
June 11, 2010, 6:24pm

Maybe you’ve seen Patrick Liddell’s YouTube sensation, “I Am Sitting In A Video Room." It's a document of YouTube compression gone horribly wrong. The final product is a strange distortion of sound and video.

This is an interesting test of the limits of digital technologies, but back in 1969, American composer, Alvin Lucier composed “I am sitting in a room” (mp3), a piece for voice and electromagnetic tape. He aimed to capture the resonant frequencies of a room. So Lucier recited the text:

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.

He then played the speech over a loud speaker and the qualities of the room emphasized certain frequencies in the playback. The process was repeated 32 times (a 40 minute duration) and with each re-recording those emphasized frequencies became more predominant. Recognizable speech is slowly distorted and is transformed into pure resonant harmonies and tones influenced the shape of the room.

Lucier performed the composition in many rooms, and over time found a few he didn’t like. You too can sit in a room different from the one you're in now and record yourself over and over; find some instructions here.

image via poptronics