What music looks like: the magic of Chladni figures

A Chladni figureYou’re probably familiar with oscilloscopes, which make the wave patterns of sound and music visible. Far less well-known, however, are Chladni figures. Discovered at the beginning of the 19th century by Ernst Chladni, a German-born Hungarian physicist and musician, these patterns reflect vibrations on a flat surface like a metal plate or a drum head. Sprinkle fine grains of sand or salt on such a surface, and the grains will align into beautiful patterns that shift as the pitch changes. Continue reading →

Making music from art with the Vessel Orchestra

Vessel orchestra at the Met BreuerWe are a musically inventive species, fascinated by sound. For millennia, we have explored every conceivable item as an instrument to create music. Rocks. Fire. Water. Wind. Roads. Plants. Vegetables. Stalactites. Bowls. Radio waves. Now we have the Vessel Orchestra. Artist Oliver Beer has created his own jug band at the Met Breuer comprising objects from the museum’s collection. He assembled thirty-two sculptures, utilitarian containers, and decorative objects ranging from ancient Persia to modern America. Continue reading →

Music in architecture

Following up on my previous post, I’ve tried to find examples of music as a direct influence on architecture. Apart from concert hall design (which is concerned primarily with acoustic properties), there are surprisingly few examples. The Experience Music Project in Seattle, designed by Frank Gehry, has a Tower of Music built from guitars, drums and keyboards in its lobby. Part of the building’s unique shape seems inspired by a melting, surrealistic red bass with a grid of frets. Continue reading →

A house in the shape of a piano

House floorplansIt’s a commonplace that architecture and music share certain organizational elements: patterns, motifs, rhythm and repetition as structure. What’s less common is the presence of music in architecture. As a challenge, I designed floorplans for houses in the shape of a grand piano, guitar and French horn.

Certain musical elements are carried through the layouts. A five-line music staff inlaid in the floor runs the length of the entry hall into the great room of the piano house; a central courtyard resembles the body of a guitar, with a round fountain where the sounding hole would be.

A circular dining room occupies the heart of the guitar house, with six lines inlaid in the floor extending from the dining room to the fireplace and outlining the base of the neck.

The most ambitious plan is the French horn house. The tubing pattern forms curving counters and inlaid flooring throughout the main living area. The mouthpiece is a planter in a private garden for the master bath.

These were just whimsical experiments to work within the constraints of musical forms with curves. I’ll explore how music affects design in real buildings in another post.