We've Moved

Ecology of Absence now resides at www.preservationresearch.com. Please change your links and feeds.

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Sounds Like a City

Think about this on your way home from work, or on your weekend walk to the neighbor's house: If your block were a song, how would it sound? What does the setback of each house sound like? How about the distance between houses? Vacant lots?

Building heights, styles, forms, fenestration and materials all create metaphoric rhythms and harmonies in the essays of architectural critics. Try to make the metaphors into true translation of architecture into music. If you live in an older part of a city, you will likely find discordant notes, varied rhythms and strange tempos. These may become in your mind a coherent composition, or they may seem like an improvised structure created by a free jazz ensemble. No matter how few houses remain on a block, some song emerges. Even the bad new buildings can be "played" in the mind.

Start to imagine blocks as songs, neighborhoods as operas, the city as the whole range of possible musical expressions. While this may seem far-fetched, I refuse to believe that such information is not embedded in the great architecture of my block, my neighborhood and my city.


Anonymous said...

"They Paved Paradise and They Put Up a Parking Lot" is a good song for the block of 9th Street between Locust and Olive.

tobyweiss.com said...

Following the path that architecture is frozen music, this all makes sense.

Whenever I drive by those insular loops of steroidal vinyl housing communities, I always hear a Kenny G.-like loop of music.

Driving down Page Avenue west of the innerbelt, the landscape is all so low-slung ugly with hastily built cheap commercial, powerlines dangling and crusty houses. I always hear a loop of generic hardcore, grindcore music: loud and ugly with distorted vocals.

Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

I think a lot about the connections between architecture and music (I really like Toby's "frozen music" phrase--nice one), and how different places sound....

But reading this, I can't help but keep my mind from one rather literal interpretation: The silence of the dozen or so abandoned pianos in the church across the street from our house can at times be deafening in its own right.

But more to what I think you meant by this piece, in a more abstract way, I think the 14th Street Mall and some of the strange post-industrial prairies east of North Broadway are some of the strangest and most wonderful sounding spaces I've ever visited.

Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

*vacant church, that is.

Rick Bonasch said...

Hey Claire,

Speaking of sounds of a city, as a neighbor, how would you feel if that old church across from you was re-opened as a night club and live music venue?

It has always reminded me of a mini-version of the Ryman Auditorium in Nashville (also originally a church).

Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

I think that would be wonderful--in fact, that is one of our favorite ideas for the building, and more than one developer who came to bid or work on our house has looked across the street and commented that the church would make a great music venue.

I would want the venue to take specific precautions as to making sure there's not too much noise pollution, and to making sure that patrons are well-behaved in our neighborhood. I am thinking about noise, littering, and folks relieving themselves around the 'hood on residents' property, AND I'm also thinking of the way that the influx of people newly brought into FPSE by the burgeoning Manchester bar strip has (sadly) drastically boosted that neighborhood's drug trade.

And if the place was popular enough, I'd want to construct some (urban) off-street parking arrangements of some sort in our yard!

But YES I would love that to be a musical and/or cultural venue. It is perfect for that.

Anonymous said...


You and Michael, parking lot owners?

Now you've got to admit that would be kind of funny.

Good money maker though!

It could happen.

Michael R. Allen said...

I hope that Claire means we'd build parking for our vehicles and not for anyone else's.

Claire Nowak-Boyd said...

Yeah, I meant just a really simple, as non-ugly and as small as possible spot to park our two small cars in our yard (a nice parking pad or a historic-styled garage if we had the money).

Actually, our lots were slated to be a parking lot for the now-abandoned church when it was in use, but the woman who rehabbed our house in the 1980s snapped up the lots herself because she didn't want to live next to a parking lot. I have to say, I don't think I would have been so keen on buying our house had it been next to a(n abandoned) parking lot!