The Unité d’Habitationtheoretical basis of the large apartment building that Le Corbusier built south of Marseille between 1947 and 1952, is a concrete experiment that was born to condense many of the postwar architectural obsessions – geometry, technique, daily life, community experience – and that, as the twentieth century progressed, became a symbol of the Fulfilled and broken dreams of modernity. Consolidated as a manifest-building, its ghostly and imposing presence has planned over several generations of architecture scholars. One of them is the Frenchman Nicolas Godin, co-founder of the electronic music duo Air. The topic that closes his new album, Concrete and Glass (Because / Warner) is titled, significantly, I quoted Radieuse, name by which the masterpiece of Le Corbusier is known.
“La Cité Radieuse has a very intelligent system of interlaced modules”, Godin recently explained to the magazine Purple. “Each apartment is like an L that fits in the L of the next apartment, as in the Tetris. Similarly, I created musical modules that fit together. ” The Marseilles building and Godin are old acquaintances, because the musician studied architecture in the early nineties and dedicated to this work one of his first compositions, Modular Mix. Godin’s intention was that the work be reproduced inside this building, which, in his opinion, reflects Le Corbusier’s austere and Protestant disinterest in acoustics.
The new encounter between Godin with this residential building has been promoted by the artist Xavier Veilhan, who carried out between 2012 and 2014 a series of artistic interventions in emblematic buildings of modern architecture. Godin composed the soundtrack for each of these installations, and those compositions, rewritten and translated in song form, are what make up this album. Listening to it, according to its author, should evoke the sensation of going through each of the stops on this itinerary through the masterpieces of the 20th century: the Sainte-Bernadette du Banlay church of Claude Parent and Paul Virilio; the Melnikov house in Moscow; the Sheats-Goldstein house by John Lautner, the VDL house by Richard Neutra and the Case Study House No. 21 by Pierre Koenig (all three in Los Angeles); and the pavilion of Mies Van der Rohe in Barcelona. As Godin has declared to France Inter, “music and architecture have always been related.”
In his words echo echoes of that statement – “All art constantly aspires to the condition of music” – with which the historian and writer Walter Pater opened in 1873 the door to musical analogies and synesthetic phenomena that obsessed the symbolist, modernist artists and, Bauhaus through, of the historical Vanguards.
However, the dialogue came from before. Musicologist Björn Schmelzer, founder of the Belgian vocal formation Graindelavoix, has been researching the relationship between architecture and music in the Middle Ages and the Renaissance for years through recordings and writings. The liberation of Gothic (Glossa Music, 2018), for example, argues that in the sixteenth-century English polyphony the melodic lines are braided and multiplied as much as the gothic sculptural decoration of the late 13th century. His previous project – called in three recordings published between 2012 and 2014 – is dedicated to the famous notebook of architectural notes and sketches of Villard de Honnecourt, an enigmatic man who traveled between France and Hungary during the thirteenth century and who, according to various studies, could Be both an architect and relic trader.
For Schmelzer, the fragmentary and cosmopolitan notebook that the Honnecourt walkway composed along the same roads of Europe that saw the rise of the great cathedrals, could be a methodological model to understand the music of the time. “Artists, architects, designers and musicians did not possess an abstract knowledge of proportions and geometry, but an applied, practical and concrete knowledge,” writes Schmelzer. According to his theory, the direct and intuitive way with which the builders of cathedrals acquired their knowledge was the same with which melodies and popular songs traveled from city to city. Therefore, Villard’s notebook, in principle a summary of the architecture of his time, would serve to show how “singers and musicians built, embellished, improvised, combined and recycled their material.”
Recycling and remixing are precisely the techniques that Studio Karhard applied in 2015 to the remodeling of Berghain’s brutalist interiors, the legendary techno club installed in an old concrete power station in Berlin. His architectural project, based on the dance rituals of electronic music, moves the dark and repetitive foundations of Berlin techno to imposing bare concrete and steel surfaces. The importance that architecture has for this monumental nightclub is also reflected in own projects such as RAUCH, a collective work of minimalist music produced by Marcel Dettman from the ascetic images of contemporary monasteries – for example, that of La Tourette de Le Corbusier – gathered by photographer Friederike Von Rauch in his series Monastic. The sound, built with synthesizers and drones, auditoryly replicates the rough textures of the Cold War constructions.
Translating a building into music is, after all, an irresistible temptation for multimedia creators. A very close example is the Decaphonic Diaphragm of Digits that the sculptor and designer José María Cruz Novillo installed in 2008 on the facade of the Madrid headquarters of the National Statistics Institute. Its rectangles of different colors and sizes represent, as if they were infographics, statistical data from Spain, and can be read as musical notes. Cruz Novillo himself, National Design Award, He explained it to EL PAÍS in 2008: “Things that are read as sounds, that are perceived as shapes.” Or, in other words, a building that can be read as a score and an obsession as old as the architecture itself.