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Alvin Lucier

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Alvin Lucier

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Composer ·

Brandeis University, Yale University

Still And Moving Lines Of, Almost New York, Still Lives, Navigations for Strings; Small Wa, Vespers and Other Early Wor

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Alvin Lucier (born May 14, 1931) is an American composer of experimental music and sound installations that explore acoustic phenomena and auditory perception. A long-time music professor at Wesleyan University, Lucier was a member of the influential Sonic Arts Union, which included Robert Ashley, David Behrman, and Gordon Mumma. Much of his work is influenced by science and explores the physical properties of sound itself: resonance of spaces, phase interference between closely tuned pitches, and the transmission of sound through physical media.


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Early life

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Lucier was born in Nashua, New Hampshire. He was educated in Nashua public and parochial schools and the Portsmouth Abbey School, Yale University and Brandeis University. In 1958 and 1959, Lucier studied with Lukas Foss and Aaron Copland at the Tanglewood Center. In 1960, Lucier left for Rome on a Fulbright Fellowship, where he befriended American expatriate composer Frederic Rzewski and witnessed performances by John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and David Tudor that provided compelling alternatives to his classical training. He returned from Rome in 1962 to take up a position at Brandeis as director of the University Chamber Chorus, which presented classical vocal works alongside modern compositions and new commissions.

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At a 1963 Chamber Chorus concert at New York's Town Hall, Lucier met Gordon Mumma and Robert Ashley, experimental composers who were also directors of the ONCE Festival, an annual multi-media event in Ann Arbor, Michigan. A year later, Mumma and Ashley invited the Chamber Chorus to the ONCE Festival; and, in 1966, Lucier reciprocated by inviting Mumma, Ashley, and mutual friend David Behrman to Brandeis for a concert of works by the four composers. Based on the success of that concert, Lucier, Mumma, Ashley, and Behrman embarked on a tour of the United States and Europe under the name the Sonic Arts Group (at Ashley's suggestion, the name was later changed to the Sonic Arts Union). More a musical collective than a proper quartet, the Sonic Arts Union presented works by each of its members, sharing equipment and assisting when necessary. Performing and touring together for a decade, the Sonic Arts Union became inactive in 1976.

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In 1970, Lucier left Brandeis for Wesleyan University. In 1972, Lucier became a musical director of the Viola Farber Dance Company, a position he held until 1979.


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Though Lucier had composed chamber and orchestral works since 1952, the composer and his critics count his 1965 composition Music for Solo Performer as the proper beginning of his compositional career.

I Am Sitting in a Room

One of Lucier’s most important and best-known works is I Am Sitting in a Room (1969), in which Lucier records himself narrating a text, and then plays the recording back into the room, re-recording it. The new recording is then played back and re-recorded, and this process is repeated. Since all rooms have a characteristic resonance (e.g., between a large hall and a small room), the effect is that certain frequencies are gradually emphasized as they resonate in the room, until eventually the words become unintelligible, replaced by the pure resonant harmonies and tones of the room itself. The recited text describes this process in action. It begins, “I am sitting in a room, different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice…”, and concludes with “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,” referring to his own stuttering. This was a seminal work on Generation loss, which inspired other artists to emulate it. It served, at least in part, as the inspiration of The Generation Loss project.

Other key pieces

Other key pieces include North American Time Capsule (1966), which employed a prototype vocoder to isolate and manipulate elements of speech; Music On A Long Thin Wire (1977), in which a piano wire is strung across a room and activated by an amplified oscillator and magnets on either end, producing changing overtones and sounds; Crossings (1982), in which tones play across a steadily rising sine wave producing interference beats; Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas (1973–74), in which the interference tones between sine waves create "troughs" and "valleys" of sound and silence; and Clocker (1978), which uses biofeedback and reverberation.

Honorary Doctorate

Lucier was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Arts from Plymouth University in 2007.


  • Orchestra Works, New World Records CD 80755-2, 2013 (contains "Diamonds for 1, 2, or 3 Orchestras," "Slices," "Exploration of the House")
  • Almost New York, Pogus Productions CD P21057-2, 2011 (contains "Twonings," "Almost New York," "Broken Line," "Coda Variations")
  • "Silver Streetcar for the Orchestra", Nick Hennies, on Psalms Roeba, CD #8, 2010
  • Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas, Nick Hennies, Quiet Design CD Alas011, 2010
  • Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas, 1-12, Lovely Music, Ltd. CD 1015, 2004
  • Navigations for Strings; Small Waves, Mode Records, CD 124, 2003
  • Still Lives, Lovely Music, Ltd. CD 5012, 2001 (contains "Music for Piano with Slow Sweep Pure Wave Oscillators," "On the carpet of leaves illuminated by the moon," "Still Lives")
  • "Music On A Long Thin Wire" [excerpt] on OHM: The Early Gurus of Electronic Music, 2000. 3CD.
  • Theme, Lovely Music, Ltd. CD 5011, 1999 (contains "Music for Piano with Magnetic Strings," "Theme ," " Music for Gamelan Instruments, Microphones, Amplifiers and Loudspeakers")
  • Panorama, Lovely Music, Ltd. CD 1012, 1997 (contains "Wind Shadows," "Music for Piano with One or More Snare Drums," "Music for Piano with Amplified Sonorous Vessels," "Panorama ")
  • Fragments for Strings, Arditti String Quartet, Disques Montaigne, 1996
  • Clocker, Lovely Music, Ltd. CD 1019, 1994
  • "Self Portrait", on Upper Air Observation, Barbara Held, flute, Lovely Music, Ltd. CD 3031, 1992
  • "Nothing is Real" on Hyper Beatles 2, Eastworld, 1991
  • Crossings, Lovely Music, Ltd. CD 1018, 1990 (contains "In Memoriam Jon Higgins," "Septet for Three Winds, Four Strings, and Pure Wave Oscillator," "Crossings")
  • "Music for Alpha Waves, Assorted Percussion, and Automated Coded Relays", on Imaginary Landscapes, Elektra/Nonesuch 79235-2, 1989
  • Sferics, Lovely Music, Ltd. LP 1017, 1988
  • Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas, 5-8, Lovely Music, Ltd. LP 1016, 1985
  • Still and Moving Lines of Silence in Families of Hyperbolas, 1-4, Lovely Music, Ltd. LP 1015, 1983
  • Music for Solo Performer, Lovely Music, Ltd. LP 1014, 1982
  • I am Sitting in a Room, Lovely Music, Ltd. LP/CD 1013, 1981/90
  • Music On A Long Thin Wire, Lovely Music, Ltd. LP/CD 1011, 1980/92
  • Bird and Person Dyning/The Duke of York, Cramps, 1975
  • "Vespers", on Electronic Sound, Mainstream MS-5010, 1971
  • "I am sitting in a room", on SOURCE Record #3, 1970
  • "North American Time Capsule", on Music of Our Time series, CBS Odyssey Records, 1967
  • Films

  • 1976 - Music With Roots in the Aether: Opera for Television. Tape 3: Alvin Lucier. Produced and directed by Robert Ashley. New York, New York: Lovely Music.
  • References

    Alvin Lucier Wikipedia