Sonntag, 16. Mai 2021, 23:03 - 0:00, Ö1



Alvin Lucier Performance with support by Andres Bosshard at the Festival Zeitgleich, 1994

In 2 Rooms – A Tribute to Alvin Lucier

by Recorder Recorder

Gerald Fiebig: voice & no-input-mixer
Elisabeth Haselberger: voice & Paetzold-flute


Thinking about a way to celebrate Alvin Lucier's 90th birthday on May 14, 2021, I realised that this birthday was still going to take place during the Covid-19 pandemic. Since the beginning of the pandemic, I had repeatedly been struck by how much Lucier's iconic phrase 'I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now' summed up the situation in which so many of us around the world have found themselves since staying home and reducing contacts have become necessary to counter the spreading of the virus. Ironically, the tools we have been using to communicate between our separate rooms have a tendency to turn our speech into artefacts like the room acoustics in 'I Am Sitting In A Room', but usually not in such a beautiful, meditative way that frees language from the burden of meaning, but in a way that tends to impede meaningful communication in an unwanted way. Still, the processual approach Lucier utilised in this, his most famous piece, seemed like the perfect formula for an experiment to test the limitations, both acoustic-technological as well as social, that the virus has forced upon us. But how could this result in a celebration of Lucier, when it was clear from the outset that whatever the result would sound like, it would by no means even come close to the sheer perfection of 'I Am Sitting In A Room,' one of the most sonically and conceptually beautiful creations of the 20th century? Was it legitimate to soil the timeless beauty of Lucier's music and ideas, based as it is on laws of nature, with the mud of the pandemic that we're trying to muddle through as both artists and social beings? Certainly, the merits of Lucier's work lie elsewhere than in social commentary, and wouldn't diverting his ideas for such a purpose almost amount to abusing his work?

Like many working in the sonic arts around the globe today, I owe more to Alvin Lucier in terms of inspiration than to almost anyone else. But after all, the best tribute to people who have inspired you is not to imitate them, but to use the ideas they have given you to create something new and different. What is more, the above account of Lucier's varied work is a bit reductive. It's not just about physics! From earlier pieces like North American Time Capsule and (Hartford) Memory Space to Carbon Copies, the way we remember sounds from our urban (and that always means: social) environments and relate them to our sound-making practices has been a continuous concern in his work. (The 'noisy' character of our piece harks back to the beginnings of Lucier's career, before 'I Am Sitting In A Room' and the subsequent focus on audible beatings – compare the composer's own 1967 realisation of North American Time Capsule on the album Vespers and Other Early Works.)

The relationship between recording and (instrumentally) re-creating sounds that is at the core of (Hartford) Memory Space and Carbon Copies is also what interests recorder player Elisabeth Haselberger and myself, as a field recordist, in our duo work as Recorder Recorder. For our tribute to Alvin Lucier in times of the Covid-19 pandemic, we chose to make 'field' recordings of our apartments in Ulm and Augsburg which have become our main 'fields' of action during the lockdown phases of the pandemic, and then re-create these recordings with our instruments in the manner of Lucier's Carbon Copies, Elisabeth on the Paetzold contrabass recorder and me on no-input mixers. Together with a text in German and English inspired by 'I Am Sitting in a Room', the field recording and the instrumental part form our respective inputs, which open the piece.
As in the model we are paying tribute to, the piece itself performs the process the text describes. This can also be referred to the fact that 'Corona communication' is much more self-referential than other forms of communication due to the constant need for using uncommon, often limited, technologies. ('Can you see me now?' - 'We can't hear you.' - 'I'll try again.' - 'Should we switch to a different platform?' - 'When the 40 minutes are over, I'll send you a new link.')
We then played and recorded these inputs (consisting of text, field recording, and instrument) via Skype,, Facebook Live, Jitsi, Zoom, mobile phone, and then twice (there and back again) via the good old landline telephone. This recording process couldn't have been performed by one person alone, so in spite of all the distance and delays inscribed into the piece that remove it very much from a performance with live interaction between musicians, it is still very much a duo piece due to its inherently collaborative character. All artefacts occurring during the process, including electromagnetic interference and incoming calls on the mobile phone, became part of the process. Each iteration of Elisabeth's input is marked by the sample 'wieder und wieder / again and again' (her voice comes first), the iterations of my input are introduced by 'again and again / wieder und wieder' (my voice comes first). In a marked difference to Lucier's approach, the material from the individual iterations is selected based on compositional decisions that have to do with musical timing, but might also be related to the 'atmosphere' or 'feel' of the pandemic. Based on this as well as on the material used, the piece could also be called Augsburg/Ulm Memory Space or Pandemic Time Capsule, because it tries to capture how it felt (and what it sounded like) to work over distance out of the involuntary isolation of the pandemic. Radio, as the first 'remote presence' medium in history, provides the ideal framework for exploring this new situation we're finding ourselves in. After all, radio has always been about that space between intimacy and distance, signal and noise, that we're now grappling with in newer media.
Gerald Fiebig

Lecture by Alvin Lucier at Zeitgleich 1994