Recording and playing back speech many times results in eerie music


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I remember this from college radio back in the day. Never knew who did it. The other one I’m still searching for was called something like ‘60 feet of piano wire in various windspeeds’. Beautiful drones. Anybody know what I’m talking about?


This music is so minimal that it doesn’t even need a link to listen to it. That background noise you are hearing right now? That’s Alvin Lucier! Incredible.


Bullshit, it’s John Cage. I’d know his music anywhere.


This fan noise is, like, so derivative! OMG!


No. but i wish i did. Sounds neat.


Here’s the link:

Shit gets real precisely at 33:37


Another factor that creates this “music” is noise introduced by the tape. In the 60s my brother and I experimented with slowing down speech. We recorded a sentence at 7-1/2 ips on one machine, played it back at 1-7/8 ips into the mike of another machine.running at 7-1/2, and so on. With each iteration tape hiss and mike noise were added to the mix and they got distorted, too. The finished ten-minute extravaganza sounded something like a World War II submarine using sonar. Gee, tape recorders were fun.


I got to see Lucier in college back in the day. I vaguely remember him demonstrating a standing wave in the room. He used a handheld microphone (attached to a light maybe?) to map out the areas of constructive and destructive interference. It was pretty cool, esp. for a room full of engineers.


I don’t know the specific composition you’re thinking of, but it sounds like an Aeolian Harp:



I’ve grown to hate this piece as every 13 to 19 months some new DJ at WPRB in Princeton “discovers” it & plays it, then a cascade of others DJ’s play it till the the only thing audible is my resonant moaning.



Entropy CAN be your friend.


The most beautiful part of this piece is the one that is most often overlooked. If you listen to the text that Lucier is repeating he states:

“…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.”

This is a reference to the fact that he himself stuttered when he spoke. You can hear a bit of this on the recording as well. The process here is not just an experiment in acoustics, but is a very personal gesture in which his vocal difference is transcended by acoustic technique.

From the liner notes of the 1990 re-press written by Nicolas Collins:

“In Lucier’s case it is all the more personal by virtue of his speech “impediment” – his stutter – which becomes the rhythmic signature of the piece. Mel Tillis, a fellow stutterer, claims to feel liberated by music because as long as he is singing to an even Nashville beat his stutter disappears. But Lucier, rather than seeking to erase in his music the stutter that impedes his conversation, uses this unique verbal drumming to propel the piece.”


Dang. Someone not only did it before me but just a bit after I was born.


One ‘recording’ fantasy project I’ve had is to record my voice as I read something, play that backwards, phonetically transcribe what’s being played back, re-record my voice but reading back the reverse-transcription, then play THAT backwards to hear how that sounds.


Since iOS doesn’t let you set a null alarm, I get to wake up to the pleasant reverie of 4’33" every morning.

Which usually is the sound of a four year old jumping on my face unannounced.

Such an artistic work.


If I recall correctly, that’s exactly how David Lynch recorded dialogue in the final episode of Twin Peaks.





‘Music on a long thin wire’. Also by Alvin Lucier