Sound Material

Who says material has to be tangible?  Well, ok, I’ve never actually heard anyone say that, but it seems to be a pretty common assumption, right?

Well you’re WRONG

Grizzly Bear
Yellow House

(listen as you read)

Material is just as much intangible as it is tangible.  It can be heard just as much as it can be seen or felt.  I’m not just talking about the sound concrete makes when water falls on it (or would that be the sound water makes when it hits concrete?); I’m talking about music, the composition of common everyday parts used in the creation of a unique whole.

Like architecture, musicians create space through a composition of parts using various materials.

Wood & Concrete
Kimbell Art Museum, Louis Kahn
Photo by: R. H. Holley

Like architecture, material can be used in its purest, unaltered form, or it can be transformed in a way that might suggest that it’s something other than what it truly is.

Lakewood Cemetery Mausoleum – HGA
Photo by: R. H. Holley

Like architecture, these materials are applied, arranged or manipulated in order to evoke a certain feeling from anyone who may encounter them.  And like architecture, these feelings can be beautiful or downright irritating.

Take this song by Grizzly Bear for example.  Their “architecture” if you will, is this very same notion; a dynamic organization of parts that rise and fall to create a space, however intangible it may be.  They compose these parts from a common set of materials: acoustic guitar, vocals, percussion, banjo, bass guitar, steel guitar, amplifiers, microphones, synthesizers (possibly, I can’t hear for sure, can you?), and of course, words.  Like architecture, its not just the use of certain materials alone that creates uniqueness, it’s also the space in which they exist (not to be confused with the space the create).  Listen to the way in which the song was recorded, a combination of microphones placed close to instruments to capture the distinct sounds they create on their own, and others set up farther away to capture the broader sounds they create when reverberating through the room (listen carefully, sometimes these two very different techniques are mixed together to create another sonic landscape I have yet to be able to describe in words).  These common materials, along with the techniques used to capture their presence, are composed into a structure that creates, in this situation, a very unique and beautiful whole, one that reveals something new each time you hear it, and one that gets better with each listen.

And like architecture, you may completely disagree with my opinions.  You may find what I call beautiful to be downright irritating, possibly even annoying.  And that’s part of what makes both architecture and music so dynamic and engaging, it’s completely up to the viewer or listener to decide, despite any attempts by the creator to explain otherwise.  That’s the power of any type of material really, tangible or not; it’s up to those of us who encounter it to impart our own selves in, of or around it.  If you get that, you’re lucky.  And if you don’t, well that’s just too bad.  But you decide.  What do you think?

User Addition: Phone on Richard Meier Wall
Photo by: R. H. Holley

User Addition: Cigarette Butt on Louis Kahn Walkway
Photo by: R. H. Holley

User Addition: Head on Renzo Piano Wall
Photo by: R. H. Holley

R. H. Holley


One response to “Sound Material

  1. Love the thought of architecture and music informing one another. I wonder how far the comparison can be taken without being forced. What are the structural elements of music? The facade of the song? What are the lyrics of a space? Where are the harmonics of a building? Very intriguing questions can arise from this conjuction of two very thoughtful disciplines. I almost think they are equally diverse in their practitioners: professionals to ameteurs, industry to folk, sacred to vernacular. Its a nice conversation that you are hinting at here.

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