The Sounds of Architecture

"I call architecture frozen music." 

Quoted by Johan Wolfgan von Goethe* many, many, many years ago, his description of architecture has been one of the most lasting. It is a quote with many interpretations, most directly reflecting the predominant style of Goethe's time: Baroque architecture and its graceful, flowing contours that seem to solidify all that is intangible. Recent studies of music and architecture - the most well-known being Elizabeth Martin's wonderful Architecture as a Translation of Music - deal less with formal comparisons and more with structure, the building blocks of both disciplines, inspired by the "music" of John Cage. Publicized recently with his biography, Daniel Libeskind turned to architecture after (supposedly) mastering the accordion and (supposedly, again) wowing crowds with his virtuoso performances, another link between architecture and music. 

But, if architecture is "frozen music," what does it sound like? That is the question posed by Edward Lifson and Hello Beautiful! for their first ever get-together and live taping on Wednesday, June 22, featuring Tim Samuelson and Reginald R. Robinson. To gear up for the show, they're asking people what music would best accompany this handful of Chicago buildings:
L-R: Pritzker Bandshell, IIT Student Union, McDonalds' flagship, Michigan Avenue streetwall, Chicago bungalow. 

Without answering that question right here and now, it seems that some styles of music are more fitting to this analogy than others, such as Jazz and Classical. Each has a unique structure and complexity that 4/4 Blues and Rock n' Roll don't have, as well minimal or no lyrics that helps make the music stand out above all else. But this point of view that harks back to Martin's small book may not be appropriate; a more fitting approach for Hello Beautiful! may be one of mood and personal experience. Because just like Goethe's quote, architecture and music are wide open to personal interpretation, our experience of each tempered by our experiences, memories, personalities, etc. It should be interesting to see (and hear) how people respond musically to these buildings above. 

*Friedrich Von Schelling also said "Architecture in general is frozen music."


  1. This is precisley the sort of problem you get when you start thinking of architecture as "art."

  2. Answer:

  3. Gehry made the Experience Music Project right? Is that frozen music? Obviously it's not just one style.

    I will be in Seattle next month, I might stop by it, just for a look see.

  4. David - What exactly is the problem?

  5. Of course architecture can be art.

  6. I'm a drummer/percussionist who started drawing architecture about 8 years ago (drawed cars and trucks for years before) at age 14, and I've spent some time thinking about this. If anyone has seen what us drummers practice, it's usually rhythms on one horizontally extending line (no vertical movement, which denotes change of pitch), meant for just the snare drum. The bass drum is the foundation of a drum set, being the lowest voice, and thus usually acts as a sparse, clearly stated voice for finding the beat - this line goes under the snare drum's. Add in a cymbal, that usually plays a part twice or four times as busy as the other parts, and that part is notated at the top of the staff.

    I say all this because looking at a drum set part, you can literally see a traditionally broken up building (base, middle, crown) in the notes. As you look from the bass drum part up to the cymbal's, the more each beat (structural bay) is divided, just as you find the largest windows on the first floor.
    This won't work for many instruments, as the concept of changing pitch muddies up clear translations, but it should also be noted that drumming is so very math based.

    Not only must we be able to "keep time," (not rush or drag the speed), we learn how to subdivide every rhythm down into 2's or 3's...... a beat in 7 would be broken down as 1-2 1-2 1-2-3 or maybe the 1-2-3 would go at the beginning or middle, depends on the song. But regardless it's a matter of finding out where the underlying beat emphasis relies, and thus acting as the foundation for the song and band, much as architecture really acts as the practical foundation to the art world. I can literally walk down the streets here in Boston and verbalize what I see in the beautiful old stock. My mind never bores....

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  8. Designing structures also require engineering for sound for purposes of sound proofing and efficient sound distribution.

  9. I was under the impression that Plato's "The Timeaus" established the concept of frozen music, and in turn predicated the humanistic tradition of the italian renaissance... not baroque -- but i guess you can make the argument if like baroque with having come out of the mannerism period...


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