Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe was a poet and playwright who famously said “Music is liquid architecture, architecture is frozen music.” His comment is meant to show some analogy in the arts, not to be taken literally. A rhythmic series of columns might support ascending structural elements topped with dramatic flourishes, so there are similarities between one discipline and another. Goethe's quote was a reflection of the Baroque style of architecture that also characterized the music of the time. The buildings were furnished with drama and contrast, bright colors, and illusory surface treatments. The music was stylistically diverse, with many instruments and different backgrounds parts.
Today, creativity and improvisation are valued concepts in music which may be finding their way into architecture in materials, patterns and textures.
“Music is liquid architecture”, the other half of Goethe’s quote, might be stretching the analogy a bit. Music has structure but so do most things, including this blog post. The term ‘architecture’ has been appropriated by many fields including ‘information architect’ and ‘web architect’ and countless “the architecture of …” scenarios where you can fill in the blank.
Frankly, architects command respect for their special knowledge and ability, so other fields have tried to borrow their prestige. Marie-Antoine Carême, one of the most influential chefs of all time, famously said, “The most noble of all the arts is architecture, and its greatest manifestation is the art of the pastry chef.” A backhanded compliment if ever there was one.
Both architects and bakers work on perfecting the structural and dimensional soundness of their creations. This somehow faulty comparison has meaning; the best pastry, like architecture, is born from detailed shapes and thorough procedures.
Music has hundreds of rules that define rhythm, harmony, melody, and texture, among other stylistic elements. Some of these rules have counterparts in the other arts, including visual art. But in the world of modern painting no one is forced to accept or conform to conventionalism. “There is no must in art because art is free” said Russian painter Wassily Kandinsky.
Theoretically, art is free. In practice, there are rules either self-imposed by the creator or set by conventional standards. These rules are the fundamentals of artistic communication. By breaking with convention a painter could exhibit a blank canvas, and the Minimalists did this successfully. An earlier conceptual artist, Marcel Duchamp, declared an object is art if it is proclaimed so by an artist.
If a blank canvas is art, can silence be music? Music cannot actually exist without silence, an essential form of auditory punctuation. The Beatles left a 14 second silent gap before the final song on Abbey Road, allowing anticipation to build before the hidden song Her Majesty. Just as shapes are defined by the negative space around them, pauses and silences help define musical composition. By extending those structural elements to their extreme limit, one could literally create a musical composition comprised only of silence.
Collectors have paid millions for white canvases. Experimental musicians like John Cage and Robert Fripp have created silent or mostly silent compositions, but the general public is not interested in these intellectual demonstrations. They prefer to listen to The Sound Of Silence rather than think about it.
Art philosophers and critics have one thing in common: they like to present their ideas as if everything else is wrong. They tend to describe abstract constructs and not the art itself, and the logic behind opinions and theories can be extremely hard to follow. But there are times when they hit the nail on the head and share analogies with deep meaning.
More Songs About Buildings And Food (Talking Heads)
The Sound Of Silence (Disturbed version)
The Wine of Silence Pie Jesu (Robert Fripp)
Aesthetic principles transcend particular genres. Music and Design can be described using much of the same terminology. It does however require knowledge with a particular art form in order to describe it in an accurate and meaningful way. People who posses this knowledge, can affectively evaluate whether or not the aesthetic terminology used in describing a work of art has merit or not. As art forms change, so do the ways of discourse. It wouldn’t make any sense to describe a work from the 21st century as though it were created in the 17th century. However, knowledge within these areas does accumulate but appreciation is always subjective.