Architecture and Music

6 From Formal Analogies to Soundscapes in the Twentieth Century

The references and formal analogies between architectural or urbanist designs and musical compositions to a large extent define the relationships between architecture and music from the second half of the twentieth century to the present. The latent Pythagoreanism in Le Corbusier’s design for the musical glass panes for the monastery Sainte-Marie de La Tourette (1956-1960), which is based on the numerical series of the Modulor,[2] and in Iannis Xenakis’s transposition of the graphic notation of string glissandi in his composition Metastases (1954) to the construction principles of the Philips Pavilion (1958) are exceptions. Subjective or metaphorical reference to sound phenomena in architecture can be identified, for example, in Le Corbusier’s design for the chapel Notre Dame du Haut (1950-1955) in Ronchamp. He referred to the chapel as a kind of acoustic sculpture that projects its forms into the distance and in turn receives the respondent light energy of the surrounding spaces. This concept corresponds with the terms sound projection and spatial music coined by Edgard Varèse. Examples for the free translation of musical notation systems can be found in the urbanist project Bloch City (1983) by Peter Crook, in which the notes, bars, and staves in Ernest Bloch’s concerto for violin (1937-1938) were interpreted as high-rise buildings, bridges, and traffic lanes; in Bernhard Tschumi’s deconstructivist designs; and in Steven Holl’s design for Stretto House (1989-1992), in which Béla Bartók’s composition Music for Strings, Percussion, and Celesta (1936) is translated into architecture. Conversely, architectural attitudes or buildings also inspired composers. These include, for example, the universal, utopian thinking of R. Buckminster Fuller for John Cage’s forms of indeterminate aleatory music, and the structures designed by the Venetian architect Carlo Scarpa for compositions by Luigi Nono. Finally, found urban sounds are processed in the Musique Concrète of Pierre Schaeffer and Pierre Henry; in minimal music, for instance in compositions by Steve Reich and sound installations by artists such as Bill Fontana or Rolf Julius; and in general in city soundscapes. In the genres of New Music, sound art, and audio performances, space or the concrete location and thus a reference to architecture and urbanism is advancing to become a decisive formative criterion. Finally, sound architecture deals with the questions as to what is auditorily perceived in an existing architectural environment and how it is perceived. Works such as Andres Bosshard’s Riflessione di una diga (Reflection of a dam; 1987), in which the acoustic properties of a dam in Fusio in the Italian district of Vallemaggia are revealed, show that the experience of architecture is always also marked by auditory perception.

The Modulor is a proportion system developed by Le Corbusier between 1942 and 1955 and derived from both the physical proportions of the human body and the ‘golden cut.’