"Galapagos in C" - a Unique Symbiosis between Architecture & Music

Image: ALN


What happens when you mix the enthusiasm of 40 students in architecture at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), the canonical musical piece form 1964  "in C" by Terry Riley, the unique architectural improvisations by David Gersten, the unprecedent  musical talent of the pianist and composer Michael Harrison, and the remarkable piano skills of another pianist and composer -  Stuart Isacoff? The answers is simple. A masterpiece called "Galapagos in C". 

The performance was part of two collaborative Architecture studios co-taught by Gersten and Harrison. Gersten led the class "Galapagos Providence" and Harrison led the class "Outside the Guidelines". "In a series of call and response duets, listening and speaking to the paintings within the RISD Museum's Grand Gallery, the work attempts to create a conversation with the room, drawing out the paintings into the sounds of 'In C' using spoken word, sound installations, performative gestures and projections," Michael Harrison say, while explicating the idea behind the project. 

The performance was featured in "The Wall Street Journal".

The Concept

"The idea of "Galapagos in C" was conceived as part of the ongoing "Galapagos Project," an archipelago of works initiated last year through Arts Letters & Numbers (ALN), a nonprofit arts and education organization founded by David Gersten in which Michael Harrison is both a visiting artist and an Advisory Board member, - the organizers from RISD explains. - The global initiative aims to promote collaboration, foster creative alliance and advocate for greater empathy, compassion and ethics in developing new spaces for education and new forms of knowledge. Recognizing cultural diversity as a range of ways of knowing, this project proposes a new vision of education: a Galapagos of forms of knowledge containing an intellectual force with the capacity to make significant contributions towards creating a better world."

The Realization, Explained by Stuart Isacooff in "The Wall Street Journal"

"Goethe called architecture "frozen music." "In  C" (by Terry Riley) perfectly illustrates Goethe's corollary: "Music is liquid architecture"... Since they were not instrumentalists, Mr. Harrison's students earnestly sang the musical modules, using lyrics that Mr. Riley wrote for the Young People's Chorus of New York City... The aim of the presenters was to create a "conversation" with the artworks on display. So during the performance Mr. Gersten's students roamed the Grand Gallery and mimicked the postures of the figures in various paintings (and sometimes the musicians). It made aesthetic sense: Though they were highlighting individual details, collectively these separate elements unified to form a greater canvas, much as do the 53 musical modules in Mr. Riley's composition."

Architecture and Music

Asked about the connection between architecture and music, Harrison notes: "Goethe aptly stated "Music is liquid architecture; Architecture is frozen music." In both disciplines we create organization and structure, a fundamental difference being that in music we create structure in "time," while as in architecture we create it in "space." In astrophysical terms, "time" and "space" are very connected and one is meaningless without the other. Ultimately, In C is architectural in itself. It was revolutionary because it is constructed entirely from 53 short modules. Its phrases build, multiply, recombine and dissipate, and at any given moment you might have six or twelve modules overlapping, which creates a complex multidimensional experience. We were doing similar things with our performance, using layers to create form and structure, and in the process creating new ways of seeing, hearing, and knowing."

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