Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Joseph Straus

Committee Members

David Grubbs

Suzanne Farrin

Jeff Nichols

Subject Categories

Architectural History and Criticism | Architectural Technology | Audio Arts and Acoustics | Composition | Ethnomusicology | Film Production | Interdisciplinary Arts and Media | Modern Art and Architecture | Musicology | Music Performance | Music Theory | Painting | Philosophy of Science


American Experimental Music, Alvin Lucier, Indeterminacy, Electronic Music, Ethnography, Science Studies


Alvin Lucier’s I am sitting in a room (1969) is an icon of experimental music and sound art. The sizable literature addressing the aesthetic and philosophical implications of this piece rarely discusses the performance practice beyond what is indicated in the score itself. This is problematic for two reasons: 1) The meaning that is derived from the piece often hinges not just on what sounds are obtained, but on how they are obtained. 2) Over the past 50 years, changes in the performance practice have altered what constitutes the work: magnetic tape was used until 2000 when it was replaced by digital computers. Before 2000 it was rarely performed live; since then it has been performed live frequently. Despite this shift in how the piece circulates, and the fact that most articles addressing it only appeared after 2005, discussions in the literature rarely indicate which version of the piece they are addressing.

This dissertation rethinks the meaning of I am sitting in a room by making the performance practice the center of the inquiry. I conducted interviews with five sound engineers who have performed the piece, including James Fei and Nicholas Collins who have played definitive roles in the life of the piece. The interviews undermine the common characterization of Lucier’s aesthetic as one of “non-intervention.” Based upon substantial knowledge of the actual performance practice, my analysis leads to important new connections to the modernist tradition of commercial architectural acoustics and sound mixing in mid-century Hollywood films.