Fifty Modern Classics This is an electro-acoustic work featuring Lucier recording himself narrating a text, and then playing the recording back into the room, re-recording it. The new recording is then played back and re-recorded, and this process is repeated. It explores both the acoustic properties of enclosed spaces and the complexities of the human voice. The text itself describes the process:

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.

I first heard I Am Sitting In a Room during a lecture at Keele University in the late 1970s – and remember we listened to the whole 15 minutes of the piece. I’ve rarely done that since then – in a way you don’t need to hear it more than once. But coming back to it again after many years, I was struck by Lucier’s pronounced stutter, and wondered if he’d deliberately emphasized it to provide more rhythmic interest – however, the last line of the text suggests self-consciousness over the stuttering that adds a more personal dimension to the work. And although this type of process can seem cold and mechanical, the voice does add an emotional element.

At the 1999 Other Minds Festival in San Francisco, which Lucier attended in person, I saw a performance of Nothing is Real: Strawberry Fields Forever (1990), a piece that explores some of the same ideas. The melody of “Strawberry Fields” is played on the piano using many different registers with the sustain pedal on. The sound is recorded on a miniature cassette recorder, and the recording is played back through a small loudspeaker placed inside an amplified teapot on the lid of the piano. The teapot lid is raised and lowered during the playback and the teapot itself is moved from the lid, altering the resonance. The effect is startling, and incredibly apposite to the source material, unexpectedly evoking the original psychedelic sound mix of Sgt. Pepper. There’s a very good video performance here.