Site in Ambient, Soundscape, and
We are accustomed to thinking that electronic music, even more than nonelectronic music, is concerned with space, a quotient of acoustics and spatialization. There are strong justifications for this association, including the numerous works that engage with space as a formal parameter like timbre or structure. Alvin Lucier’s I Am Sitting in a Room (1969) is one of the most frequently mentioned examples of electronic music’s interest in space or, specifically, in how the acoustic properties of a room can alter sound. But space in this work ultimately refers back to listening. It is not enough to know that I Am Sitting in a Room loops the sound of Lucier’s voice so many times that the reinforced frequencies of the room eventually render his words unintelligible; listeners must hear these transformations over time if they are to have their greatest effect. The piece is most impressive when heard live within the very room where the speaker’s voice is slowly being fossilized and rendered unintelligible. In short, I Am Sitting in a Room treats space but also the embodiment of listening, the fact that we listen not only as minds or ears but as entire bodies. The concept of space risks reifying electronic works as objects separate from their surroundings, whereas any practical treatment of space in music always hinges on the listener’s relationship to sound.
Many other electronic works also address the theme of space, although they, too, end up reflecting back on listening as much as, if not more than, on space. Instead of structuring this discussion around space, we would do well to expand our focus to site, which entails not only the environments in which sound propagates but also those that listeners physically and metaphorically occupy. The terms at play in discussions of music and site are