In 2011 I was asked by my good friend, Sidney Robinson, to write a piece of music to celebrate the centenary of Taliesin. Sid and I actually met for the first time at Taliesin when the quartet that I perform with, Third Coast Percussion, was playing at the Hillside Theatre at Taliesin for the first time.
Sid and I (and Wright) share a fascination with the connections and illuminating disparities between architecture and music. Surface similarities between the two disciplines, such as a shared vocabulary (rhythm, form, material), are not so interesting to me. I think they are more coincidental than substantive. But Wright’s use of common patterns—such as simple geometric shapes—layered together in unusual and unexpected ways immediately makes me hear music.
Architects are forever finding new ways to combine floors, walls, and ceilings into spaces that excite, or soothe, or inspire their inhabitants. Musicians, in turn, are forever finding new ways to combine harmonies, melodies, sounds, and rhythmic motives into sonic experiences that excite, or soothe, or inspire their listeners. Combinations of the familiar, even the mundane, into something new and breathtaking is the alchemy that is shared by all creative practices.
I find inspiration in Wright’s work, and Taliesin in particular, on many levels. Sid likes to say that “Taliesin was always changing, but it was always Taliesin.” So this structure belies one of the greatest differences between music and architecture: the temporal and ephemeral nature of the one, and the permanence and immutability of the other. Wright created themes in the original 1911 Taliesin that carried him through the next 50 years of rebuilding and adding on to the structure. How incredible to be able to tinker with a building off and on for decades, and still have it come out as a cohesive and unified work of art.
“…striving for entity, oneness in diversity, depth in design, repose in the final expression of the whole —
all these are there in common pattern
between architect and musician.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright
This is particularly poignant for me today, in 2021, when my piece Common Patterns in Uncommon Time is now 10 years old, and I’m revisiting it with my bandmates for the first time in 8 years. It’s been fun to revisit the structure and materials of the piece with another decade of music-making under our belts, and I’ve done some tinkering of my own. But somehow, the musical structure that I made feels fixed—as though editing too much of the original piece will cause the whole thing to crumble around me. This is of course entirely in my head, but I do think it’s interesting that Wright was able to edit and enhance a building, Taliesin, over such a long period of time, and the piece of music I wrote inspired by Taliesin somehow seems to resist change. I just love that these two disciplines can bely expectations in this way.
The piece is comprised of six movements and an interlude performed without pauses between the movements. Each movement draws its title from one of the keywords from Wright’s quote: entity, diversity, design, and repose.
The materials of the percussion instruments used (glass, wood, and metal) are woven throughout the work in much the same way Wright integrated materials to unify his own designs. This represents a striking similarity between percussion and architecture: more so than in any other music, percussion music is defined by the materials used in performance. A piece may call for marimbas and vibraphones, or it may call for radios, electric buzzer, and tom-toms; whatever palette the composer chooses, his or her work is defined and structurally unified by these materials as an architect’s work is defined and unified by his or her use of limestone, or plaster, or wood.”