Room Tone

This sincere looking chap is Alvin Lucier, Artist, and sonic explorer. One of his most memorable works is ‘I Am Sitting in a Room’ in which he records himself speaking a phrase in a room. He then plays that recording into the same room and records that. Each subsequent recording has more and more room tone until the fundamental frequencies of the room completely obscure his original narrative. It’s a simple idea and a great one, the best thing about it is that you can try it out for yourself really easily.

My sound today is a recording made in the upper room of Beconsfield Art Space in South London where I was making an installation last year. The room is acoustically very active with old wooden floors, reflective walls and a very high celling. I played the sound of a one sample click (sounds like a glitch at the start of the mp3) into the room using a PA system then recorded the results using a pair of Oktava MK012’s, normalised the recording then played it back into the room and recorded that. I repeated the process 10 times. As you will hear the results are fascinating. I really like the way the tiny impulse gradually turns from a percussive sound into a pitched sound as the attack time gets stretched out and the room’s fundamentals take over. You don’t have to have a big room to try this out it’ll work well in any slightly reflective space, you could even try it through a convolution reverb. My installation is documented here.


8 thoughts on “Room Tone

  1. That’s a beautiful recording with an inspiring history behind it, Leafcutter. Thanks for posting. What if you made a dozen or so of these in different spaces then used each sound as “note” in an instrument, then made a composition with the instrument? You could compose for an ensemble of rooms.

  2. Amazing stuff. This reminds me of a time when me and friend tried out his new Adam monitors. The idea was to turn his place into a resonant chamber. It was student’s dorm with a room, a small hallway to the corridor and a bathroom on the side of the hallway. We managed to produce a standing wave and even make the bath tub shake.

    But this something different, of course, since you’re using the room to synthesize a sound, not to amplify one by resonance. I must ask you… The sounds after the the immediate reverb of the click, is all of it the room tone? On the second and third go (Counting the dry click as the first go) I swear I cn hear other sounds, eg someone closing a door or putting his foot to the floor.

    Actually, this makes me think of another thing. When me and my friend (yeah, the same one as in the first paragraph) did a feedback experiment involving a Serge, a Buchla and a spring tank reverb. The idea was to have a feedback loop of Reverb -> filter -> other effects -> back to the reverb. Then we’d modulate the filter frequency to produce different tones. The result can be heard on this release: (Free download)
    Veqtor & 2tronik01 – Analogik2 Track nLog43168

    Sorry for the long and ranty comment. :)

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