A composition is like a house you can walk around in.
— John Cage
Perhaps music, more than the art of sound, is the art of time. That’s why its communion with space, and architecture, is so often so perfect. When we touch upon this relationship between music and architecture, we’re really speaking not of the meeting of two arts, but of two dimensions– and of their respective original forces. The influence of music on space is palpable. We know that a room, and what happens inside it, can be transformed radically by the musical influences applied to it. But this also happens, as David Byrne has noted, in the other direction: spaces, and their purposes, have inspired and influenced schools of musical thought. Sacred music could hardly have existed without the prior existence of cathedrals and monasteries. Punk simply wouldn’t sound the same without the chaotic, little London clubs of its era.
Numerous studies have analyzed the effects of music at the cellular level: on behavior,
longevity and other aspects of cells. Music has also been documented for its role in the process of neuroplasticity, and in the physical changes undergone by the brain over the course of our lifetimes. Thus, even without appealing to any
‘new-age’ hypotheses warning of the impact of music on the molecular structures of water, we might suggest with some confidence that music has a tangible impact on matter. But if music has this capacity to alter cellular
behavior, or to re-model the human brain, let’s speculate a little on what affect music might have on space–and the depths it can reach.
The German composer, K.H. Stockhausen warned that the space-music relationship is an essential factor in his compositions. During the composition phase, he considered the direction at which sound would travel through space. He found it impossible to dissociate music from physical space, something similar to what happened with Iannis Xenakis, a French-Greek architect who later shined as a musician during the second half of the 20th-century. Spatiality in music, and musicality in architecture, refer to the mathematical essences of both disciplines. The “music of the spheres,” as Pythagoras called it: the music generated, at least philosophically, by the displacement of the stars. It’s interesting to consider that sound needs space to come to life–that is, as a means to the unleashing of its waves. On the other hand, there’s no space, at least not on Earth, that can be fully shielded from the assault of sound. We might then even insist upon following Stockhausen’s example and simply admit that one cannot be separate from the other.
Music and architecture meet at a crossroads which, similar to a Zen koan, or the tree which falls in a forest, is perhaps in need of that perceptive ingredient to even exist. That is, they need time, space, and a consciousness which perceives them. So, the next time you listen to music, and you’ll do so inevitably within a physical space, remember that you’re an equal protagonist in one of the deepest of communions.
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