Music and Architecture

From KCRW DJ Tom Schnabel:

Goethe once observed that “architecture is frozen music”.

When I told people a few years ago that I taught at SCIARC (Southern California Institute Of Architecture), people would inevitably ask “what’s music got to do with architecture?” To me the differences in the two disciplines were never that great.

Here are two great artists making the connection:

Claude Debussy, French composer (1862-1918), said this after being blown away by the 1889 Universal Exhibition, where he heard Balinese gamelan and other exotic music:

“Music is a free art, gushing forth—an open-air art, an art boundless as the elements, the wind, the sky, the sea!  I love music passionately, and because I love it I try to free it from the barren traditions that stifle it.  The sound of the sea, the curve of the horizon, the wind in the leaves, the cry of a bird enregister complex impressions…”

Oscar Niemeyer, Brazilian architect (1907-)

“I am not attracted to straight angles or to the straight line, hard and inflexible, created by man. I am attracted to free-flowing, sensual curves.

The curves that I find in the mountains of my country, in the sinuousness of its rivers, in the waves of the ocean, and on the body of a beloved woman.” (See a slideshow of his work here)

Artists so often are inspired by the organic, by humanity and nature.  One thinks of Picasso being smitten by the rawness and purity of the African masks at the Musée d’Ethnographie du Trocadéro in 1907.  This was just a couple of months before he painted Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, one of his most famous early works and one that shattered the tenets of 19th century romanticism in art.

And of course we have Frank Gehry celebrating the sensual, sweeping arc and curve in his glorious designs.

Toru Takemitsu had a similar notion of how nature and music meet, and he listed Debussy as his strongest influence. We are fortunate to have artists like Frank Gehry and Ryuichi Sakamoto carrying the torch forward.

Tom Schnabel