Monthly Archives: March 2012

The Chamber of Music

“SOUND IS INVISIBLE, BUT HAS THE POWER TO
CHANGE THE CHARACTER OF THE SPACE WE
OCCUPY.” -JULIA SCHULZ-DORNBUR, GERMAN ARCHITECT

Intangible though it may be, music sculpts our world. A new ad campaign launched by the Berlin Philharmonic illuminates this idea and helps us see that music builds real spaces in our minds and our environments. These images are simply brilliant — not to mention gorgeous.

There are three reasons why I think this is one of most incredible ad campaigns I’ve ever seen; first, in capturing the view from inside various musical instruments, the Berlin Phil manages to implicitly reveal the core purpose of music: to make us (humans, creatures, whatever) feel moved. Or at the very least, music makes us feel as though we can comment on our surroundings, meditate on our past, ponder the future, or discover connections between ideas. The images in these advertisements situate us at the origin of the sound — we’re no longer sitting in the audience, we’re no longer jamming out to our iPods, and we’re no longer performing on stage. We are the birthplace of sound. This is the chamber of music. Reframing our role as artists calls into question very interesting acoustical issues — how does the build of an instrument (its density, material, organization, age) act as a microcosmic auditory space? And how do those minute details add up when we look at the structure of the actual concert hall? Each instrument has its own properties that may or may not respond to the architecture of the space.

Second, music is architecture. The effects of music that I described in last paragraph are actually quite visual in nature; in that regard, music is aural, but only to an extent. Often the way we think about it is visual, and the way we respond to it and engage with it is an architectural process. Furthermore, in a TED talk by David Bryne, the musician explains that birds in a canopy, where the foliage is dense, have short, high-pitched, and repetitive calls, whereas birds in a lower canopy tend to have lower-pitched calls so that their sound doesn’t get too distorted when it bounces off the forest floor. So while environments create music, music also creates environments. And at the most basic level, musical composition is an architectural practice involving the arrangement of sounds.

But I think the most interesting thing about this ad campaign lies in its simple inversion of the way we normally see things. Robert Krulwich wrote a fantastic blog post earlier this month on the topic of turning objects (specifically, stuffed animals) inside out. He wrote: “I had never imagined, never even conjured, what a stuffed doll would look like inside out. And now that I see them, I’m thinking two things: that they are gross, slightly unsettling, and for the next month or two, anytime I see a teddy bear or a cuddly baby toy I’m going to imagine their insides — something I have never, ever done. What’s more, something hidden has been revealed; my sense of possibility has just expanded. Kent Rogowski’s art is an exercise in opening the mind by turning expectations inside out. This is how creative people play: As David Hume once wrote: ‘All this creative power of the mind amounts to no more than the faculty of compounding, transposing, augmenting, or diminishing [our]…experience.'”

If the classical music world wishes to remove itself from the endangered species list, it would do well to develop more creative campaigns like this one. We don’t need conductors to tweet at us during performances, we don’t need fancy musical “accessories” like multimedia presentations, and we don’t need more pops concerts. All we need to do is see music in a different light. The result is existentially intriguing and architecturally sound.

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