Searching for a Definition of Lo-Fi Architecture

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I was recently listening to some of relatively new lo-fi music (specifically Times New Viking and Ariel Pink) while mulling over some potential projects and series of blog posts that originated over at mockitecture. The subject: music-building pairings. To get up to speed on this expanding dialogue, also check out Fantastic Journal and Sit Down Man, You’re a Bloody Tragedy. Seriously, go ahead. I’ll wait….

Done? Great then, let’s continue.

So with all these ideas rattling around, I posed a question to the hive-mind of Twitter: What’s the architectural equivalent of lo-fi? However, unlike the aforementioned posts, the idea here is more general than single-serving building-song pairings. What makes lo-fi music, lo-fi? How does that innate lo-fi-ness translate into architecture? The responses were varied:

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My Bloody Valentine

[MBV: If Diller Scofidio’s Blur Building was made from sound and light]

Tuesday Night, I was lucky enough to catch My Bloody Valentine at the San Francisco Design Center. How the hell do I describe it… The loudest, most amazing music I’ve ever felt. From the opening chord, sound and light dull everything but your most primal sensations. Your clothes move, your body vibrates, your organs rock out to the sweet, sweet shoegaze onslaught. As the concert came to a literally deafening crescendo, it was like MBV ignited a jet engine in the warehouse. The music reverberated through the space, wrapping around you, weaving undertones through your subconscious until it felt like the room was actually breathing – expanding and contracting as it struggled to contain a single, blasting chord. And when it ended, you were filled with a fleeting, yet profound, sadness. I realise these rambling sentiments don’t do justice to the live experience, but thankfully Sam Jacob has no such problem:

Through sound, MBV create a kind of spatial and physical construct – not architecture as frozen music but fluid, blurry volume as architecture. It’s an architecture that isn’t anything more than a physical sensation, but one that’s so close to substance it might just start to congeal in the air like the particles suspended in a rapid prototyping tank. It’s no wonder that the music journalism cliche of the shoegazing era described these textures and layers as “sonic cathedrals” – pieces of architecture that you could hear but not see. And in the midst of this dense cloud of MBVs frantically oscillating waveforms, it feels like the most profound architectural experience – the first gig to be awarded the Stirling Prize.

I second that nomination.

The Music of Chance

A couple nights ago, my friend Mike and I were walking through the San Francisco Civic Center MUNI Station, when a familiar noise started up – the torturous scratching of THE WORST VIOLIN PLAYER IN THE WORLD. One of the more…um, ambitious, homeless and / or crazy citizens of San Francisco. I’ve often heard The Worst Violin Player in the World while fighting my way through a crowded MUNI station during rush hour, but never have I heard him at 11:30 pm playing in an empty station.

Perhaps it’s not right, but I’ve always just sort of assumed he was some bum who found a busted violin (surely a functioning violin could never make such wretched noises!) and saw a great opportunity to spice up his pan-handling. Most likely, anticipating a relative financial windfall. Well, because the station was completely empty, I was able to clearly see him playing for the first time and noticed something that had previously eluded me – some sort of sheet music. Curious, I took a closer look, and had my mind completely blown.

The Worst Violin Player in the World may very well be entirely insane, BUT he’s also an undeniable avant-garde genius. Check this: he was using BUILDING PLANS for sheet music. So basically, The Worst Violin Player in the World looks at a floor plan and somehow his brain translates that into what can only be described as the music you hear before you die. Forget John Cage. If that’s not genius, I don’t know what is.

It made me feel like a damn idiot. Do different styles of architecture sound different? How important are line weights? What does a door schedule sound like? Is it possible that the aggressive, staccato notes I heard were auditory emodiments of a demolition plan? This seems like it could potentially have drastic implications for both fields…and I’m a little afraid.