Monday, July 25, 2005

I am going to play it back into the room again and again

Daniel Handler: Well, onto "Experimental Music Love." Tell me exactly what you did there. It sounds like early Steve Reich stuff to me, "Come Out" and "It's Gonna Rain." Is that what you did here?
Stephin Merritt: No. It's just fifteen tape bounces from the first track, with a certain delay each time, a tenth of a second. In headphones it's pretty difficult.

I, too, initially thought that "Experimental Music Love" was an homage to Reich's early tape pieces (an MP3 of "Come Out" is available here). One writer suggested in an article in the Independent (thanks to David Jennings for the tip) that "'Experimental Music Love' is the love song that the avant-garde composer Alvin Lucier never wrote." I think we're getting warmer.

American composer Alvin Lucier has created, since the 50s, experimental music that often deals with the possibilities of resonance. Some of his pieces involve vibrating wires, hand-held echolocations devices, an amplified teapot, pure wave oscillators, and even "enormously amplified brain waves". In this interview, Lucier discusses his fascination with echoes and his piece from 1968, Vespers, " which players really make sounds that echo off ceilings, walls, floors." But while Lucier's works frequently involve natural acoustics, the bouncing in Merritt's "Experimental Music Love" was most likely created with computer technology - that's okay, since we should expect artificiality from Merritt (and take note that Lucier has explored digital effects and sampling as well.)

On the list, Merritt includes "I am sitting in a room" as his selection for 1970, a track which is possibly Lucier's best-known work. The process is simple: record several sentences of speech (which happen to describe the piece itself) onto tape in a room, play that back while recording it onto another tape in the same room, and then repeat the process until the original words (and his stuttering) are unrecognizable and the room's resonant frequencies emerge as the prominent sounds in the final recording. The first sound file is a fragment from the 40 minute version recorded in 1980, containing the entire monologue in its unaltered form. The second file (21 MB!) is a 15 minute version from 1969, taken from the magazine/record SOURCE: Music of the Avant Garde.

Alvin Lucier - "I am sitting in a room" (fragment, 1980)
Alvin Lucier - "I am sitting in a room" (complete, 1969)


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