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Sonic Intoxication: Alvin Lucier’s “I am sitting in a room,” Degree Critical

As I sat and listened, the room filled and my body swelled. I am never prepared for the way sound effects my body—to engage in active listening reveals how much of my daily auditory perception goes unnoticed. Our minds censor our ears to keep us from sensory overload. Now in a state of heightened awareness, at a point when the beginning and end of Lucier’s speech remained comprehensible, but the middle muddled into competing high and low frequencies, I experienced periodic chills down my spine. As Lucier’s words splintered into unintelligibility, a low frequency born from the interference of the many layers of recorded sounds echoing in the room made the muscles of my abdomen contract and left me momentarily light headed. The recordings continued to multiply as the individual sound waves interfered with each other, alternately amplifying and negating the frequencies. To further intensify my auditory experience and eliminate visual distractions, I closed my eyes. In the darkness, I felt like I was standing on a floating dock: a visceral wobbling sensation contradicting my previously stable seat in the chair. The individual tones swerving in and out of each other had turned into a feverish whirling cacophony, at once consonant and dissonant. The structural logic of my experience in the world fell away and I surrendered to the sensation of a Dionysian interaction with Lucier, the sounds, the room, and its contents.

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