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David Byrne, on the Relationship Between Architecture and Music


How does the art of spaces influence musical composition?

Since the Talking Heads split up in 1991, David Byrne has proven to be a lucid source of creativity and intelligence. He has worked in film and music, and has also been an active supporter of cycling as the future of urban mobility. On this occasion we share a conference he gave at TED Talks in 2010, in which, in a sensitive and energetic manner, he explains the intimate correspondence between music and architecture —Specifically, on how architecture has triggered musical evolution.

Who better than him, who went from playing in places like the CBGB to the Carnegie Hall, to tell us about the symmetry between one type of music and the place where we listen to it? Byrne moves chronologically through different architectural periods, noticing the difference that musical composition experiences with the passing of years. For example, the aerial and fluid music that filled the cathedrals became much more texturized and rhythmical when the size and shape of the places changed to become something like the Carnegie Hall.

As he points out, certain types of music seem to work better for specific places. Rap and hip-hop have their best moments in car sound systems; punk was at its best in asymmetrical and small places like the CBGB, and arias inside gothic cathedrals —places where a jazz concert, for instance, with its intricate melodies and sharp pitch changes, would not sound to its full potential. Today we can listen to each layer of sound through our iPod’s headphones, and Byrne deduces that this influences the type of music we make.

This takes him to the main point: we make music to fit in with these contexts. Perhaps, to paraphrase him, the vessel in which we will pour the music is the first thought we have when composing, and then comes the passion and emotion to shape it. To clarify this idea, Byrne uses the example of birds: a bird will not sing in the same way when it is on a tree as when it is on the ground, nor will it sing the same in one part of the world as it does in another; his song —his message— adapts to the environment that contains it.

Byrne finds that music is an adaptive means that is molded to fit a physical pre-established frame. Is music written for a specific place? And if it is, is that architectural space a model for creativity?

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