Music is liquid architecture,” wrote Goethe. “Architecture is frozen music.” It’s a pithy, oft-quoted turn of phrase that makes intuitive sense. One needn’t read music, let alone study architecture, to understand that rhythm, structure, harmony, and precise detail amid sweeping grandeur are common elements of the two artforms.
Another common factor: unlike paintings and literature, which are largely passive, requiring us to approach their frames, to open their covers, music and architecture reach out in our direction, playing inevitable parts in our daily lives.
Until last year, North America had no major music museum with a building befitting its subject. Then came the opening of the spectacular and stirring Studio Bell, home of Canada’s National Music Centre in Calgary, Alberta (850 4th St. SE. Tel: 403-543-5115. www.studiobell.ca). It’s a deeply satisfying building to explore, seeming to unfold around you as you move through it. Like the best symphonies, it is at once majestically scaled and compellingly intimate.
What did we have before this? Cleveland’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame is, to me, Pei’s knock-off of his own Louvre Pyramid; it looks like an award-ceremony trophy, with none of music’s emotional resonance.
And while it might be argued that the Seattle edifice originally built as the Experience Music Project, Frank Gehry’s most garish major building, resembles a frozen chunk of 1970’s Moog synthesizer sounds, the design is untethered to any coherent vision. With no essential change to its appearance, the building was rechristened last year as the Museum of Pop Culture (aka MoPOP) and now houses a hodgepodge collection “spanning science fiction, fantasy, horror, fashion, sports, and video games.” Studio Bell is on another plane altogether.