Veteran composer Alvin Lucier - the first to compose music for "brainwaves" - explored the musical potential of EEG technology in Music for Solo Performer (1965). In another seminal work I am sitting in a room (1969), Lucier explored the spatial dynamics of the act of listening itself - or, put another way, the relationship between a performer's physical presence in space, the mediation of sound through technology, and the act of listening. I am thinking in a room, different from the one you are hearing in now attempts to bring to the fore the legacy of both Music for Solo Performer and I am sitting in a room, by way of a "non-performance" realized through sound.
The actors in this work are entirely immobile throughout the performance. While the actors sit still, brainwave sensors are monitoring their focus levels. Several solenoid motors are connected to the sensors. When focus level is above a certain threshold, motors will become activated. Focus level is pre-determined and scored into musical notation, which the actors attempt to “execute.” The actors perform focus and distraction at various points. While focus is a state of becoming and less predictable, actors can reliably induce distracted state by moving the eyeballs quickly, thus overloading the brain with visual stimulation-distractions. There is tension between the performative setting of this work and the conditions of a “successful performance,” which paradoxically rest on the actors’ ability to ignore this setting, and also the presence of an audience. The constant struggle between focus and failure-to-focus, absence and presence, virtuosity and the lost of control is amplified through sound. Additionally, as soon as the actors become aware of the activation of the instruments, they become distracted. This constitutes a mind-to-ear “feedback loop,” and puts the actors’ failure on display.
Lucier's original text score for I am sitting in a room:
"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."