The Austin Chronicle

Music in Architecture – Architecture in Music

More songs about buildings and space

By Robert Faires, October 21, 2011, Arts

The old maxim that compares writing about music to dancing about architecture implies some sort of inherent east-east, west-west, never-the-twain-shall-meet divide between different artistic disciplines. But this week, the University of Texas aims to prove it ain't necessarily so. With the Music in Architecture – Architecture in Music symposium, the School of Architecture's Center for American Architecture and Design, the College of Fine Arts, and the Butler School of Music play Reese's to the two forms, showing that they're every bit as compatible and tasty together as the peanut butter and chocolate in the famous cups.

A goodly chunk of the four-day event is taken up with scholarly papers, though when you consider that topics run the gamut from Buckminster Fuller's "jitterbug" to Jimi Hendrix's studio, with room in between for bebop, John Cage, Miles Davis, and the meeting point of "father of the skyscraper" Louis Sullivan and operatic übermensch Richard Wagner, they might not be as dry as you'd suppose.

Still, the big draw for those of us lacking the academic bona fides for either field are the numerous site-specific collaborations between composers and designers from across the globe. If you happened to be on campus the day before this edition hits the streets, you may have already caught some of the excitement. On Oct. 19, five of the eight teams that made the finals in the event's composition and design competition presented their works in spaces across the Forty Acres, from the Grand Hall of the LBJ Library and Museum to the loading dock of the Perry-Casteñeda Library. Imagine hundreds of glass, wood, and steel chimes suspended under the arches of the Waller Creek Bridge near the alumni center – that was the setting for "seeing times are not hidden," the collaborative creation of Matthew Teodori of the percussion ensemble Line Upon Line and Emily Little and Norma Yancey of the Austin architectural firm Clayton and Little. And that is the kind of integration of space, structure, and sound that these projects have undertaken.

Still to come are three more competition finalists: "Theater of the Imagination," a composition by Frank Clark inspired by the theoretical writings of engineer and architect Cecil Balmond, featuring the Georgia Tech University chorus (Thursday, Oct. 20, 6pm, Jessen Auditorium); "Turnaround City," an original work combining design by Alberto Sacca with music co-written by Sacca and musician Francesco Pafundi of Rome (Friday, Oct. 21, 4pm, Mebane Gallery of Goldsmith Hall); and "Bridge Harp: Mirror City," a piece for the Brooklyn Bridge Harp, a working model of the Brooklyn Bridge cabling, composed and performed by Sheryl Jordan and Liam Singer of New York City (Friday, Oct. 21, 4pm, Mebane Gallery of Goldsmith Hall). Also, former Austinite Ellen Fullman, who on her last visit to town turned the Seaholm Power Plant into a musical instrument with her 100-foot-long Long String Instrument, is back to do the same for the 100-year-old Battle Hall Library with a new composition titled "Tracings" (Thursday, Oct. 20, 8:30pm). The symposium's grand finale is "Low Close Vast," a new work commissioned by the Butler School of Music from composer Paul Dresher in collaboration with Los Angeles architect Michael Rotondi and Michael Benedikt, director of the Center for American Architecture and Design, performed by faculty and students from the Butler School (Friday, Oct. 21, 7:30 & 8:30pm, Bass Concert Hall).

A couple of days of this and you might get what Goethe meant by calling architecture "frozen music." Or maybe you'll start seeing music as liquid architecture. The symposium has made it easy for you to check out. Except for the performances of "Low Close Vast," it's all free. For more information, visit

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