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I Am a Man Sitting in the Cafeteria

January 8, 2013

While the majority of the students were away on break this winter, I found some time to sneak into the empty campus dining hall to do a recording project.

very, very sneaky...

very, very sneaky…


This project was motivated by two pieces of music written by two different guys during the latter half of the 20th century. These guys being Charles Dodge and Alvin Lucier and their pieces being “A Man Sitting in a Cafeteria“(1973ish) and “I Am Sitting in a Room” (1969) respectively.

Dodge’s piece was a digital intonement of a poem by Mark Strand of the same name. Working after hours at Bell Labs on a computer used for speech research, Dodge made a group of speech poems of which “A Man Sitting in a Cafeteria” is my favorite and perhaps the most comical. The text of the poem:

“A man sitting in a cafeteria

Had one enormous ear

And one tiny one.

Which was fake?”

-Mark Strand

Lucier’s piece, one of his most well known, features a recording of himself reading a text in some given room, and then re-recording that recording in the same room. This process is repeated multiple times resulting in a filtered version of each previous step in the process. As the piece unfolds the resonant frequencies of the room are emphasized and the speech slowly is blurred into the formant frequencies of the room. The text that Lucier reads in the piece describes it as such:

“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.”

The recording that I made uses Dodge’s speech song in lieu of Lucier’s narration but follows the same process of recording and re-recording in the same space, this space being a cafeteria. You don’t have to listen very hard to hear the sounds of stray cafeteria workers that wandered in during the recording. I was never able to fully articulate to them exactly what I was doing but they were nice enough to let me continue.

Finally, here is the actual audio.

The cafeteria, no man visible

The cafeteria, no man visible


From → Recordings

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