Laurence Cliffe

intermedia arts | creative technology | research through design

Home | Archive | Contact

Creative mutation through repetition

Creative mutation through repetition

In Lucier”s Vespers (1972), Collins (2010) describes his experience of performing this as a sonic architectural portrait. A reconnection of sound to physics, architecture, animal behavior. Here, he claims that Lucier linked sound with animal survival, sound as a human instinct. We can draw analogies with Lucier””s other work here such as Quasimodo the Great Lover (1970) where the story of experience has been compressed into a concentrated form, a compressing of time if you like, leaving us with an historical artifact of sorts. Toop (1995) claims that much of Lucier”s work was difficult to listen to, but the theory behind it fascinating:

“…the sound seemed to be an inconsequential, unengaging by product of conceptualisation.”

Additionally, Toop (1995) suggests that there is an ‘air of pseudo-science” about Lucier”s work. This is illustrated by Lucier”s use of brain waves to control instrumentation, via electrodes attached to his head, and other biofeedback devices including lie detectors and sonic location devices. Lucier”s focus on space an is an important factor, placing the audience within the performance. (Marshall in Toop, 1995). Lucier was a member of The Sonic Arts Union, along with Robert Ashley, Gordon Mumma and David Behrman. Manning (2004) claims he was the most adventurous of the group due to these pseudo-scientific experiments. This spirit of adventure and experimentation echoes Sol LeWitt”s ideas on the progressive importance of the conceptual artist, both in an artistic and scientific context:

“Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach… illogical judgments lead to new experience.” (LeWitt, 1969 in Lippard, 1997)

This advocacy for an experimental and adventurous artistic practice without regard for the consequence of the final output places Lucier”s work not only deeply within the aesthetics of conceptual art, but also within the hidden aesthetics of malfunction and the notion of progress and creativity through error. (see previous post on Ikegami & IIashimoto, 1996). With regards to Lucier”s I Am Sitting In A Room (1969) Manning (2004) states:

“The use of acoustic linking from recording to recording adds an extra dimension to the progressive transformations,..”

I Am Sitting In A Room (1969) is also described as: ‘a generation of cumulative reiterations” (Manning, 2004). This overriding faith in process over output can be identified as Cagean in its foundation. (Ross, 2009) In relation to Cage, Reich and Lucier, Ross also suggests that the compositional technique of identifying technological shortcomings, or quirks, and setting up a situation or process that exploits this was central to their work, and any steps taken to interfere with the playing out of his process constitutes ‘a personal mode of expression” or, perhaps a step towards a more personal aesthetic. In reference to his 1979 work Music On A Long Thin Wire, a piece involving an 80-foot wire strung under the rotunda of The New York Customs House, Lucier remarked:

“The wire played itself. All changes in volume, timbre, harmonic structure, rhythmic and cyclic patterning, and other sonic phenomena were brought about solely by the actions of the wire itself.” (Lucier in Cox & Warner 2010)

Collins (2007) likens I am sitting in a room to a seventeenth century Dutch portrait:

“a contented citizen surrounded by his prized possessions, brings into public space an acoustic picture not merely of a different room, but of a man in his private world.”

Providing further evidence of the integral role space and time play in Lucier”s work. In I am sitting in a room the whole history and duration of the piece (approx. 45mins) has been condensed into the last recorded excerpt (approx. 40 seconds), within which the pure acoustic physics of the space, and a collapse of the public and private have been recorded too.


COLLINS, N. 2010. Epiphanies. The Wire. (321) p. 98.
TOOP, D. 1995. Ocean Of Sound. Serpent”s Tail: London. pp. 203-248.
MANNING, P. 2004. Electronic and Computer Music. Oxford University Press: New York. p. 165.
LIPPARD, L. 1997. Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to1972. University Of California Press: USA. p. vii
ROSS, A. 2009. The Rest Is Noise. Harper Perennial: London. p. 544.
COLLINS, N. 2007. Live Electronic Music. In: COLLINS, N. & D”ESCRIVIN, J., eds., The Cambridge Companion to Electronic Music. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, p. 43.
COX, C. & WARNER, D. 2010. Audio Culture: Readings In Modern Music. Continuum: London. p. 207.