David Byrne discusses at TED the influence of architecture and venue on musical activity. (I saw him give an extended version of the same talk, with discussion, at New York’s Center for Architecture.) It’s a question that’s especially relevant to electronic music, I think, as digital music has been a big confused about its venue, sometimes living in unfriendly dance clubs, and sometimes being homeless.

The natural question, the one Byrne doesn’t ask, is what venues might be next? What if artists took an active role in creating the architecture in which they perform?

I have plenty I could say about that, but instead, I’ll just spark the question. For some ideas, look to thinkers like Buckminster Fuller, who regularly worked with students on ready-made architectural constructions, built by hand, on the cheap, in short periods of time. Resources:

10 Gonzo Machines From Rogue Inventor Buckminster Fuller [Popular Mechanics]
Buckminster Fuller Institute
Archigram Archival Project, which assembles materials from the radical Archigram architectural collective

  • bar|none

    Buckminster Fuller is awesome.

    Saw a one man show in SF, where the actor basically transformed himself into buckminster fuller and went through his life and inventions. Really amazing show.

  • Buildings that are purpose built for electro-acoustic music should sound as dead as possible. VERY absorbent walls, to avoid natural reverberation as much as possible.

    At CCRMA, they have a room built about 5 years ago, dedicated to the performance of electronic surround pieces. It is covered in black absorbent material, and has a 7-sided pit for seating (I guess a pentagon would be too obviously Satanic). It sounded pretty good, but it had a large metal grill in the bottom of the floor, to allow sound to come from below, and the grill had a fair amount of resonance.

  • Gogmagog

    Don't know how many of you are familiar with Rhythm and Noise, but they did a lot of very interesting work in the 70's and 80's with regards to electronic music and venue. This article is a pretty good intro, but I recommend their one and only album, Chasm's Accord.


  • Gogmagog

    @Sean Costello re:dead spaces, that all depends on whether or not one considers one's environment as another instrument or performer of the music.

  • bar|none
  • Peter – Great post!

    I'm open to multiple possibilities concerning venue. I've usually had to invent or adapt my own, as in, 'hey, you're giving an art opening? Great! Would you mind if I projected some trippy imagery and played my music in the background? Cool! Uhm, do you have your own projector, or sound system? No? Dang! Hmm, let's see what I can put together . . . ' . . .

    I think the artist/designer/architect/composer/visualist who adapts best to many possible performance opportunities will be . . . remembered . . . the art of improvisation is now a logistical one, it seems to me. (notice I didn't mention the Steve Martin quote – 'writing about music is like dancing about architecture')

    . . . Bucky endures, and David Byrne, probably will, too, as one of the 6 Post-Modern Davids (you can figure out the other five, I'm sure).

  • Greg

    Great talk. I'd never really thought about it that way.
    Buuut . . .
    Bach didn't "change keys," per se. That suggests a development of the concept of chords that hadn't come together yet.

    The discussion of politics at the end is utterly stupid.

  • Right on, Greg – –

    One only needs to review Charles Rosen's 'The Classical Style' to put all this (i.e., chord changes, etc., which took another 150 years to really solidify, theoretically into our current notion – – that is, circa 1970- – of 'tonality') into perspective. And the political stuff is a little self-indulgent.

    The personal is the political, the end.

  • Damon

    I find my bedroom studio and computer display speakers work perfectly for the music I create while passed out on my keyboard.

  • Yeah, I'm completely lost on the notion of political choice and the venue of music; they seem unrelated to me, and whatever connection he sees, he seems not to make. He didn't make the same argument when I heard him speak, and the presentation is, slide for slide, otherwise identical. Not sure why he didn't simply leave it that way. The idea of the importance of venue holds up well enough on its own. But then, I've been known to go off on odd tangents when the mood strikes me, so understand I'm being entirely hypocritical.

    The Bach example, likewise – yes, he may be stretching his argument. Chant obviously didn't simply give way to the Well-Tempered Clavier, and nor was there an immediate shift in architectural venue for the debut of Baroque music. The instances in which he's speaking more broadly are, of course, far more defensible.

    But naturally orchestration, at least, takes these matters into account. And it is an issue for electronic media in general, which are effectively without a vessel. So it may be the negative case here that's more meaningful than the ones he mentions.

    @SkyRon: well, we get a lot of our harmonic ideas from Rameau; they wouldn't look that out of place. Even more so, as post-70s tonal music has embraced a wider view than 19th Century harmony. But I don't think that J.S. Bach is the advent of harmony or key changes, nor is there some architectural revolution in his church… that part's the stretch.

    Now, I'll absolutely have a look at these architectural links. Keep them coming. 🙂

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  • Thanks for the links. I got turned on to both Bucky Fuller and Archigram via the Whole Earth Catalog. I've known that there are a ton of Fuller resources online, but have never gone looking for any Archigram stuff.

  • cillianjohn

    The work of Japanese architect Shigeru Ban might be of interest in the context of this discussion.
    He's built some interesting structures using cardboard tubes, he's also the architect behind the Nomadic Museum that was in New York in 2005, made using shipping containers, and paper tubes. http://www.shigerubanarchitects.com/

  • Claude Ravel


    It would be difficult to be more inaccurate, than you are about Bach.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Chromatic_modul… Those things where 3 and 4 notes occur at once, are called CHORDS and the modulation is to a new and different key. There are at least many hundreds more examples of Bach changing keys and using chords. Contrapuntal movement of voices does not negate this being so.

  • Greg

    By your argument Palestrina made harmonic music, and Gregorian chant (depending on how you define "note" – different pitch? Different tone?) might be harmonic as well.

    You aren't genuinely making harmonic music unless you use the tritone (directly or indirectly) to change tonal centers.
    The latter is not a black and white issue for a fair portion of Bach's extant catalog. If you are a music historian and/or can demonstrate otherwise, I'd love to have my mind changed.
    I'm aware that one can bend counterpoint's rules (mostly the one about using tritones – although parallel motion has become virtually a given as well) to make harmonic music – presuming one even has/had an instrument appropriately-tuned. In Bach's time, the tuning wasn't a sure thing.
    Again, please correct me if I'm wrong.

    Moving back to David Byrne, I'd like to see more content like this, pretty please.

  • bango dango

    this man is a genius, very usefull and insightful info. seems there are some bits cut out near the voting seciton

  • John Clements

    I agree very fully… we need to free electronic music from the 'beer box' environments and provide better performance systems (i.e. surround, WFS and 360 projection instead of a front-loaded 'rock band' setup). I am very pleased to see Buckminster Fuller mentioned here. His book "I am a verb" has been one of my bibles since childhood, and in the works of my mind is a portable, green, geodesic sound and projection system/staging/shelter for deployment at festivals and conferences. I think that the value of a project like this extends far beyond the electronic music scene, and could be viable for community music and theater as well as trade expositions and gear demos. Bars (where I am unfortunately forced to go in order to see electronic music) are not in the business of selling music, and it is rare that you find one where the owner cares about the hi-quality technical aspects which newer digital performance techniques increasingly demand.

    Would love to read/discuss this issue much more!

  • So I perceive this more as a lesson in mixing than a history lesson as presented.

    For electronic music, these are the venues you would like to emphasis to generate pleasing sound qualities.

    So try to put your drums in an african plain, no reverb from walls, just basically diffusion. Strings, pads, anything relating to texture, place inside a large concert hall circa 1700s. Complicated noises, leads, intricately played melodies, place inside a small room, chamber orchestra stylee. And so on and so forth.

    Combining all these could result in quite a good mix I would think. Any thoughts?