LSF 51：Sitting Outside of Lucier’s Room
Text: Fang, Yen-Hsaing
Translate: Yvonne Kennedy
“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.”
——Alvin Lucier, 《 I Am Sitting in the Room》
Samson Yang and Puta are sitting in a room, just like the one we are in. But if they attempt to strengthen the audio of the two sets of sound installations, then they must focus on the black-box like room on their bodies. They must focus their efforts on concentrating on a singular object.
I'd only read about the brain-wave remote control helmet unveiled at the technology exhibition three days before the performance. I didn’t expect that I would be sitting here a few days later, observing two performers wearing a type of light weight sensory device. It could be coincidental, but the performer comes from Hong Kong and had produced a different performance format using EEG devices. No doubt this conveys a feeling of instantaneousness; and a medium with “immediacy”.
Sharp-eyed members of the audience will have noticed that there is a discrepancy between the English language and Chinese language information provided in the publicity materials for LSF51 designed by Niu Chun-Chiang. In the Chinese version, Samson Yang’s work is described using a Zen verse while the English version more accurately attributes the title of the work to Alvin Lucier’s (1931~), a reference to the opening line of Lucier’s classic of the same title: “I Am Sitting in the Room”. “I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now…” – this monologue is a key subtext in Samson’s performance piece, and Lucier himself was a pioneer in using EEG device in his creations in the 1960s.
When Lucier’s made his first official recording of “I’m Sitting in the Room” in 1969, his confessional tone drew us into the prevalent humanistic philosophies in art that marked a turning point in the 1960s. In the process of repeatedly recording sound and broadcasting the phenomenon of feedback, “language” was eliminated and replaced with a coexistence of resonant waves of sound permeating the physical space. With this behavior, Lucier revealed the coexistence of an individual (self) within a space, countering the previous existentialist attitudes to re-explore how “self” might be defined. In this era, the individual was no longer positioned in the post-WWII relational dialectical of “individual/collective”, the struggle was to find a meaning for survival and existence within the concept of the self, a concept that is more inherent and historically contextualized. This began through a relationship of communication using the conduit media of “text” and “speech” – a sort of spatial shift and topographical relationship.
In practice, this sort of Linguistic Turn (ambiguity and expansion of meaning is requisite for this specialized terminology) is best explained using the words from a recent work by performance artists Vito Acconci: “the actor connects the self with a system outside the self.” In his works, such as Seedbed (1972), Undertone (1973), and Theme Song (1973), Acconi established the interconnected relationship between the “private/self” and the “publich/world:”, enabling the audience to enter the spatial extensions of the “self/body” through both material and immaterial media. Similarly, “I Am Sitting in the Room” uses the medium of sound rather than the body to include both the sound producer and listener become a part of the overall phenomenon of space.
The sounding device comprises of a brainwave detector connected to a computer and Buddhist fish-shaped woodblock. When brainwaves reach a preset value, the sounding device is activated. The performaer attempts to control sound intensity or dispersion according to a pre-established arrangement. The so-called “control” is not easily achieved. At times the performer rolls his eyes around rapidly, in an attempt to disrupt focus with rapid visual stimuli so as to reduce the emission of sound; at other times, the performer “works hard” at maintaining a state of relaxation in order to maintain focus.
Unless an individual is psychologically predisposed to enter into a state of concentration, the performer would become, as described by Samson: always wanting to use the “hearing” sense to detect whether the sounding device has been activated, but to no avail; but instead, activating the device at the moment of surrendering to an uninterrupted state of concentration. Once sound is emitted, the performer is able to focus on that sound and continue the emission of sound; paradoxically, as more sounds are created, it is more difficult to maintain this focus that produced it, and the sounds begin to die down.
Similar to the “negative feedback” discussed in Mode Control Theory: the output creates a change that influence the original change in the opposite way. The resistance to change from within the system creates a equilibrium. This performance returns the technological art form (tech art) to its traditional proposition: information masters the world. Whether physical or aesthetic, this is a world composed of quantum units of information. The performe’rs sensory perceptions (sound, vision) and mental state (concentration) controls the audio feedback installation, and the instrument device completes the loop.
“Why have you chosen the so-called “post rock” for your performance format today?” Answering questions like these from the audience comes naturally to Puta. In reality, regardless of the effects of this definition on the listening experience, today’s preparation, orchestration, and performance by the duo have gradually immersed us in an atmosphere/space of emotional tension. If pressed to describe the characteristics of this type of music, it is a musical genre very suited to a small room. Whether in performance, listening, or broadcasting, these are rendered in a sort of liquid nature that is well suited to the contemporary urban space -- a small, private, flowing space.
“The more you want your audience to hear it, the less your audience will hear,” Samson Yang said in the seminar. Contemplating the performance as a whole is to reverse the cause and effect equation of “performer/audience” = “produce/reception”into a negative concept of“non-production/reception”. So is the audience a necessary presence in the performance arena? Or is the audience a presence that must disappear?
Samson and Puta are reading Alvin Lucier’s words: ““I am sitting in a room different from the one you are in now. I am recording the sound of my speaking voice…” To them, this is the core spiritual command of the entire performance, but this text is not visible to any of us in the audience. It is revealed only in the glowing of the screen.
Through this command, they are attempting to transport their spirit away into a different space away from the rest of us, to enable us to hear their inner world. Like what Lucier’s Room tells us about the potential that art uncovers: Only by differentiating the self from the other, can we reveal our co-existence.