Tinker, Tailor, Gesamtkunstwerker | Polyphonic Spaces

“Simulation is a simplification…and the prototype is analogous to the rehearsal“

Emma-Kate Matthews, Architect, Musician, Maker,EKM Works [1]

the Whistling Stop, EK Matthews, London

The hills are alive with the sound of music: so too the bricks and mortar. Performance spaces, from sacred groves to Roman amphitheatres were chosen and designed specifically for their acoustic properties through an intuitive pas-de-deux of phonos and space rather than linear determinism. The performance of a piece, whether a Gregorian chant, Muezzin’s call or political rant have been inextricably linked to the material and formal qualities of the space at hand: choral hall, minaret and the dais a smattering of innumerable typologies of performance spaces and forms. The importance of material and form to specific performance, excepting all but for the most extreme audiophile, has been reduced as electrical projection and attenuation of sound has become commonplace. Rather than building resonant structures though geometric forms it’s far easier (and cheaper) to employ the dark arts of a sound engineer and with a little acoustic voodoo attenuate any performance for any space.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

There are however contemporary performances, experiments and cultures whereby the performance is inextricably linked to the spaces in which they reside. At one end of the performance spectrum there is the prevalence of composer specific performance halls in Germany and Central Europe. The Köthen Concert Hall displays as much taut form and brisk vigour as Bach’s Brandenburg concertos. The Bayreuth Festspielhaus displays a nationalistic, Wagnerian bombast for which it was specifically designed. At a more minimalist scale there is John Cage’s Organ²/ASLSP (As Slow as Possible) in the ruined Sankt-Burchardi-Church in Halberstadt. The act of visiting the space and pressing one’s ear to the plexiglass organ shroud is as much a part of the performance as the single note emanating from the bellows.

At the more experimental spectrum of phonic spaces: polymath Emma-Kate Matthews creates and composes site-specific and temporal dependant performances: inextricably linking space, object and music to draw parallels between her disciplines as Architect, Maker and Musician. In her own words:

“there are quite a few parallels between being a composer for music and an architect. Both of those people are considered creative visionaries…the score for a composition, for a piece of music, is equivalent to a set of construction drawings for the architect.”

Simply put: an architect composes for a space and an composer for music. Emma composes for both. Her performance “Dorsal Falls” at the Musician’s Church, St Leonard’s Shoreditch relies on a direct reading and rehearsal within the space: the primary instrument, the building itself. The performance is an experimental work, intended as a piece of further research into Phonic Spaces and part of a developmental sequence of work in design + making, whereby benches become whistling instruments & self-made instruments the physical echoes of the sounds of cities. The projects are part of a burgeoning company of contemporary design that embraces technological change and the potential for unfettered creation.

So bang the walls and hear the polyphonic bricks sing.

The podcast interviews Emma-Kate Matthews, Academic, Architect, Musician, Composer, Musicologist. Emma works, in her words, at the extremes of the architectural profession educating those at the beginning of their journey into architecture & at the opposing end in Avant-Garde digital research.

Discussion Points

  1. Woe is me…the lot of the contemporary Architect
  2. Digital Design, from inception to creation
  3. Fabrication, Specialisation, Making
  4. Inter-disciplinary connections – I waffle about Conservation
  5. Dorsal Falls, Performance @ St Leonard’s Shoreditch
  6. Steel Hangers, Designed + Made

Leave a Reply