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surfaceI am sitting in a room
When applied to music, the word 'surface', like 'texture', is taken generally to refer to an aural perception - it is a metaphor for an imagined tactile equivalent. Yet musical surfaces lie also at the interface between the creative act and its sonic outcome, in the sense that the means used to produce sounds (whether traditional instruments or 'found' objects), and the technology used to store and manipulate the results, constitute control surfaces. To this inventory can be added the actual surfaces and resultant acoustic fingerprint of the performance space, which effect the physical behaviour of the reflected sound waves. Listener reaction can also be understood in terms of the impact of the sonic outcome upon a personal 'surface' matrix of cognitive ability and aesthetic expectations.

These conceptualisations of musical surfaces are articulated in Alvin Lucier's seminal I am sitting in a room (1970), which in its original incarnation subjects a human voice to an analogue tape manipulation of the acoustic feedback loop. The performer begins by uttering into a microphone the words in the title, followed by a description of the performance operation. The recording is then played back through loudspeakers situated in the room, and the ensuing playback is itself recorded and played back. The process is repeated many times until all that remains is a 'silhouette' of the original statement, illuminated against an increasingly saturated ambient background. The outcome is therefore dependant upon the operator's manipulation of the technical control surfaces, the acoustical properties of the room, and any other sonic events that may infiltrate the feedback loop. Returning to the idea of surface as a metaphor, this so-called 'open' feedback loop erodes the originally pristine vocal surface, rendering indistinct its phonetic and phonemic profiles.

A digital rendition of Lucier's I am sitting in a room will be performed by Michael Yuen at 10am on Sunday 26 October 2003, in the performance space of the Elder School of Music's Electronic Music Unit, at the University of Adelaide (5th floor, Schultz Building). Its technical aspects and aesthetic implications will be discussed by Yuen, Christian Haines and Mark Carroll.