How to perform "I am sitting in a Room" by Alvin Lucier?
December 16, 2008 12:10 PM   Subscribe

I would like to perform Alvin Lucier's "I am sitting in a room" live in a classroom. Does anyone know of a computer program capable of simultaneously playing, recording, and then rerecording over the previously played material on a loop?

Alvin Lucier made his recording by strategically placing the play, record, and erase heads at specific points on his reel to reel, so that the sound recorded was then played and rerecorded and the original recording was erased. I am looking for software to allow me to do this on a laptop - preferably freeware.
posted by lotusmonster to Technology (12 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
You could do this for free with Audacity which is an open source multtrack audio utility.
posted by Cat Pie Hurts at 12:28 PM on December 16, 2008

Audacity is good. If your laptop is a mac and you have Quicktime Pro, this would also be relatively easy to do with Soundflower.
posted by Izner Myletze at 12:34 PM on December 16, 2008

If you are looking to get some sound programming experience, you can make your own version with Pure Data (free, opensource). Or, if you want to dive into Max/MSP (commercial, closed source), you can download their 30 day trial or runtime, and use the patch in this thread. Once you have the basics down with either, it should be a trivial task.
posted by tip120 at 1:06 PM on December 16, 2008

izner: perhaps I am misunderstanding, but are you implying that you would use soundflower to route audio from one copy of quicktime to another? because the essential thing is getting the sound coloration of the room, mic, and recording medium, and soundflower routing would give you one perfect digital copy after another, with no color added.

For maximum ease of real time use, I would recommend a simple pd patch, that I just wrote because I figured it would be easy enough (it was). Just make sure the audio engine is running and click the top button for each iteration. Beware, this is a 15 minute hack of a patch, but it should do the right thing. PD is free and open source and available for all common operating systems.
posted by idiopath at 1:21 PM on December 16, 2008 [1 favorite]

tip120: jynx! (except I went and made the patch, so you got to post the idea first).
posted by idiopath at 1:23 PM on December 16, 2008

There is an entire community around this style of music production, although usually it entails layering loops rather than overwriting on one loop. The most sophisticated and well-known program for this sort of live production is Ableton Live, but it's not highly specialized to anything but its own flavor of real-time DAW stuff, so you'd need to tease it into making it work. A simple Max/MSP or PD patch like offered above would work if there's really nothing more to it than what you just said, though.
posted by abcde at 3:09 PM on December 16, 2008

abcde: "I am sitting in a room" is a classic piece, and there really is nothing more to it than what he just said (except the wonderful choice of wording: "more as a way to s-s-smooth out any irregularities my s-s-s-speech my have" he stutters at one point). It is much more of an iterative / procedural piece than a loop piece - each iteration lasts a minute or two (I shortened it to fifteen seconds in my patch because I figured that was better for a classroom demonstration). There is a noticeable transition between iterations, and the changes from iteration to iteration are large enough that there is more a feeling of a definite progression, than any feeling of looping.

Finally having a chance to test that patch I posted above (I was at a cafe without my headphones when I put it together earlier) I have to say that without a decent quality mic, sound card, amp, and speakers, you are looking at a much shorter piece than Lucier. In my room with the eeepc built in sound card and mic, and a set of powered computer speakers, I had howling feedback and static after 5 iterations, and after that it did not change much.
posted by idiopath at 3:34 AM on December 17, 2008

idiopath is right: this is, ironically, more of a hardware problem than a software problem.

I'd say at *least* be sure to practice, using the exact setup you plan to use, before you try it with a roomful of other people. Live, it will get hard to control pretty fast... your I Am Sitting In a Room is likely to turn into Pendulum Music. Which is, you know, a process too, but maybe not the one you're going for and maybe not one other people will appreciate. :)
posted by kalapierson at 5:18 AM on December 17, 2008

Response by poster: Thanks for the advice! I haven't done much with Pure Data, but I'll check it out. However, if you are convinced that it turns into feedback after five cycles of 15 seconds, I am not sure that it will convey the same idea..... Maybe if I work on a longer patch?

thanks again.
posted by lotusmonster at 11:47 AM on December 17, 2008

Assuming you really do need a high-quality room to make it work without tons of feedback, I bet incorporating a feedback reduction plug-in would fix it. It would certainly dilute the point of the piece (since that would probably alter the way that the room's acoustics are incorporated into the original sound), but the linked page suggests that the effect has more to do with the equipment in use than the room anyway.
posted by abcde at 12:15 PM on December 17, 2008

Here's a useful article from a guy who did a 30-minute live performance with an audience.
posted by kalapierson at 7:46 PM on December 17, 2008

lotusmonster: the duration is not what makes it turn into feedback, the lower the fidelity of your sound card, mic, speakers, etc. the faster the iterations devolve into a feedback like sound (even in the original, it is basically just feedback at the end).

I made a new version of the patch. The maximum iteration length is 120 seconds, and easily editable (it can be permanently set to a smaller value if the patch is using too much precious ram). There are comments that will hopefully make the whole thing easier to use, and the code on the inside is a bit clearer and more efficient. Also there is a "stop" button to set the length of the iterations.
posted by idiopath at 3:14 AM on December 18, 2008

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