The German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe is said to have said to another German poet, Friedrich Schiller, "Music is liquid architecture; architecture is frozen music." This conversation is said to have happened in 1829. But architecture can only be frozen if you, too, are frozen. And so, like a record player, the music of a building is only heard when the observer is spinning. This is why there is no music in an image of architecture. The photograph truly freezes it.
1979 or 1980? In one of the two years, I think I took a pic of I.M. Pei's National Gallery of Art. This was not long after the building's completion, in 1978. I believe the image is mine because my father was not interested in art or architecture. His near perfect memory was not visual, like that of the doomed young man in "Funes the Memorious." I, on the other hand, was already in love with forms, drawing, photocopying, carbon paper, colors, and cameras at age 10. The first thing I bought with my own money around this time was a Polaroid camera. Instant images. From reality to film like that. I had to have it. And this is why I believe that I was the one who snapped the beautiful pic of Pei's masterpiece in Washington, D.C. at the end of the 1970s.
But while visiting this gallery on the day of the image, I certainly walked around it. And this movement certainly released its music, which turned out to infold the deepest parts of my boy being. The music of the National Gallery of Art would, for the rest of my life, transport me from this world to one that was beyond this universe. I felt these other places and people in these other universes that I could only imagine. I knew, when the music of the building played, they were there under different skies and with different modes of going through time.
Goethe also called music liquid architecture. This correspondence between the forms is more correct if it's stressed that you can hear a building and see music. Indeed, as I got older, I began to find music that not only sounded like I.M. Pei's building but also transported me way out of this world, this galaxy, this universe. I was once again in these other places with their own forms of life. And what I saw of these worlds was conducted by the music's feeling. It made the vast distances between us and them vanish in an instant. It made space an illusion, and time very real. I was there and here at once.
I will close this post with three songs that, for me, link the universes like Pei's National Gallery of Art.
1) Brain Eno's "2/2," which is on an album, Music for Airports, that was released around the time Pei's building was completed.
2) Grace Jones's "Don't Cry, It's Only The Rhythm," which is near the conclusion of her masterpiece of pop, Slave to the Rhythm.
3) Alpha's "Roy," a tune that opens their 2003 collection of instrumentals called Made in Space.