Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Icons of Brutalist Architecture

10 Icons of Brutalist Architecture, from the Breuer to the Barbican

With béton brut (“raw concrete”) as its namesake and primary material, Brutalism initially surfaced in the middle of the 20th century, in part as a quick, economical solution to the urban destruction wrought by World War II. At first centered in England, the style spread across the world in the following decades, proposing a radical new form of Modernism, steeped in socialist ideas, that embraced hard lines and a utilitarian lack of ornamentation. Long reviled but recently revived, Brutalism is nothing if not striking, with its heavy, imposing buildings that privilege function over form. Here are 10 of the world’s most iconic examples of the style.

Unité d’Habitation, Marseille

Le Corbusier, Completed in 1952

Photo courtesy of Anapuig via Creative Commons.
The first in Le Corbusier’s series of “unité” buildings was built as post-WWII working-class housing, but instead it became home to Marseille’s intelligentsia, when its intended residents balked at the revolutionary design. Then complete with a shopping center, post office, and room for 1,600 people in efficiently laid-out apartments, the building acted as a self-contained city that, according to Le Corbusier, “show[ed] the new splendor of bare concrete.” Recently designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the megalith arguably represents the birth of Brutalism.

Paul Rudolph Hall, New Haven, Connecticut

Paul Rudolph, Completed in 1963

Photo courtesy of Sage Ross via Creative Commons.
Yale University’s Paul Rudolph Hall—formerly called the Yale Art and Architecture Building and renamed for the preeminent architect in 2008—is considered one of the first brutalist buildings in the United States. Two of the Hall’s giant textured-concrete columns flank its narrow, off-center entryway, corralling visitors inside. The interior is unexpectedly open, enhanced by natural light and enabling views of the Louis Kahn-designed Yale University Art Gallery across the street. Intended to forge a community among students, the building manifests Brutalism’s social ideals.

Bank of London and South America, Buenos Aires

Clorindo Testa and SEPRA, completed in 1966 

Photo courtesy of Dan DeLuca via Creative Commons.
Now owned by Banco Hipotecario Nacional, the building that once housed Buenos Aires’s Bank of London and South America stands both in concert with and contrast to its neoclassical neighbors. Echoing the surrounding Beaux Arts buildings, the bank splays out to meet the area’s narrow streets, yet passersby can move among columns at its base, enjoying the impression of more sidewalk space. Visible at the building’s front is its primary structure—a sleek glass box encased on either side by a rugged concrete shell. Apertures in the concrete lend both levity and character, as well as exterior views from within.

SESC Pompéia, São Paulo

Lina Bo Bardi, Completed in 1986

Photos courtesy of Patrick Parrish.
Transformed from an out-of-use factory slated for demolition into a leisure center, the SESC Pompéia in downtown São Paulo epitomizes Lina Bo Bardi’s dedication to local heritage and materials. When the architect began the project—what she called a “socialist experiment”—in the late 1970s, the building was serving as a kind of unofficial community center, with the non-governmental Serviço Social do Comércio (SESC) organization hosting cultural activities and sports there. Bo Bardi honored the building’s existing use, expanding the complex with monumental concrete towers and bridges that also pay homage to its industrial roots.


The Breuer Building, New York City

Marcel Breuer, COMPLETED in 1966

The former home of the Whitney Museum of American Art (which relocated to the Meatpacking District last year), the hulking, top-heavy Breuer Building on Manhattan’s Upper East Side initially met with criticism when it opened in 1966. Since then, its bold contrast with the area’s brownstone-lined streets has endeared it to the public as an avant-garde neighborhood fixture—and current Met outpost. Named after its Bauhaus-educated architect, the building’s unornamented granite façade and concrete ceilings typify the brutalist insistence on raw materials and functionality.

The Barbican, London

Chamberlin, Powell, and Bon, COMPLETED: 1982

Photos courtesy of Patrick Parrish.
The architects of the Barbican created the estate’s mottled façades by hammering away at cast concrete, and enlivened the structure’s cantilevered balconies with plants. The massive multi-use complex contains an arts center, cinema, restaurants, and schools, as well as some 2000 apartments that began as council housing, intended to make inner-city living desirable to middle-class professionals. Built on a site razed by World War II bombings (“The Blitz,” as it is known in the U.K.), the estate’s layout is intentionally bewildering, an effect created through elements reminiscent of a medieval fortress as well as private gardens, lakes, and walkways.

Boston City Hall, Boston

Gerhard Kallmann and Michael McKinnnell, COMPLETED in 1968

Photo courtesy of Cliff via Creative Commons.
Built as part of a campaign to restore the city’s former glory in the face of economic inertia and white flight, Boston’s City Hall has been under fire for its harsh aesthetic since it opened in 1968. The architectural community, however, has praised it as an icon of Brutalism. The concrete building was conceived according to a kind of modernized Classicism à la Le Corbusier, with rows of coffered overhangs and various protruding modules, one of which houses the mayor’s office. With windows into the building’s activities and an outdoor plaza designed to flow seamlessly into the lobby, the building espouses governmental transparency.

Habitat 67, Montreal

Moshe Sadie, COMPLETED in 1967

Habitat 67 began as Safdie’s McGill University graduate thesis and evolved into one of Canada’s most recognizable brutalist structures. His first design to ever be realized, the set of 354 interlocking, prefabricated concrete units, containing 158 one- to four-bedroom apartments, each with a roof garden, was originally presented at Montreal’s 1967 World’s Fair. Situated along the Saint Lawrence River, the dramatic complex—with its cubic modules that jut out into the surrounding space—proposed the idea of an urban “village,” which Safdie considered a more humane and organic alternative to traditional apartment living.

Trellick Tower, London

Ernie Goldfinger, COMPLETED in 1972

Photo courtesy of @brutal_architecture via Instagram.
“Cities can become centers of civilization where men and women can live happy lives,” Goldfinger once said. Yet by 1972, when the “unité”-inspired Trellick Tower was erected as public housing, it was in the face of growing disillusion about similar tower block buildings. Now revitalized after years of dereliction and petty crime that earned it the moniker Tower of Terror, the 332-foot-high concrete block features two distinct yet connected buildings, separating elevators and stairwells from the balconied apartments to maximize living space.

Brazilian Museum of Sculpture (MuBE), São Paulo

Paulo Mendes da Rocha, COMPLETED in 1988

Photo courtesy of @gleicefpaiva via Instagram.
Though MuBE took shape in the late 1980s, significantly after Brutalism’s heyday, it is a striking example of the Paulista School style—the international movement’s Brazilian iteration. As such, Mendes da Rocha—who received a Golden Lion at this year’s Venice Architecture Biennale and the 2006 Pritzker Prize—embraced the large-scale, bulky forms that raw concrete naturally facilitates, manifested in the nearly-200-foot beam atop the museum. Containing offices, an art school, and open, concrete galleries, the museum itself is built largely below ground, so as to respect the surrounding green space.

—Rachel Lebowitz

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Julien's Auctions announces Property From The Estate of Frank and Gail Zappa

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Julien's Auctions announces Property From The Estate of Frank and Gail Zappa

A clay Thing-Fish model, a ukulele featured on the Thing-Fish album cover.
LOS ANGELES, CA.- Julien’s Auctions has announced Property from the Estate of Frank and Gail Zappa Auction which will take place during the Icons & Idols: Rock n’ Roll 2016 auction on Friday, November 4, 2016.

The legendary Frank Zappa’s (1940-1993) career spanned over 30 years. As a music composer, producer, director and guitarist, he would fuse musical genres and incorporate diverse musical techniques and sounds, some often politically charged and intentionally shocking. Often described as a genius, Frank Zappa was undeniably one of the most innovative musicians of the 20th century. He led the sixties California freak movement, composed classical compositions throughout his career, was a hero of free speech and spoke out against censorship often in public.

Frank Zappa GRAMMY nomination plaqueIn 1967, Frank married Gail Zappa and purchased a home in Laurel Canyon in Los Angeles, California. The compound was complete with a home studio that he named Utility Muffin Research Kitchen. Zappa made over 60 albums during his career and toured the world for decades. Frank and Gail had four children -- Moon, Dweezil, Ahmet and Diva. Gail was a strong supporter of artists’ rights and an animal activist.

Zappa was a pioneer in sound and recording techniques. A true innovator. He created unique and extraordinary compositions. He was a musical master and considered to be one of the greatest guitarists to walk the earth.

“Music, in performance, is a type of sculpture. The air in the performance is sculpted into something.” -- Frank Zappa

During the Zappas’ decades of touring the globe, they amassed a collection of exotic furnishings, fine antiques, salvaged architectural pieces, unique collectibles and whimsical items that appealed to their panache for colorful and non-conformist eye. The Property from the Estate of Frank and Gail Zappa auction will include many of the personal treasures that found their home at the fabled compound in California. These include a Venetian gilt metal chandelier (Estimate: $10,000-$15,000); an Italian Baroque console table (Estimate: $2,000-$4,000); and a carved gilt wood bookcase (Estimate: $1,500-$2,500). Contemporary fine art to be offered includes a still life by John Alexander (Estimate: $3,000-$5,000); a nail relief sculpture by Robert Harley (Estimate: $5,000-10,000); and a large painting by Ashley Laurence titled “Angel Pig,” a name given by Gail Zappa (Estimate: $3,000-$5,000).

Colorful and personalized home décor including a monumental chandelier festooned with Christmas and other ornaments that was the focal feature of the kitchen where the family often convened, a hand painted dining table and chairs (estimate: $1,000-$2,000), and a pair of Southeast Asian papier maché tigers (Estimate: $600-$800) will also be offered. Gail Zappa’s love of animals and birds was artfully incorporated all over their home. Many of the items being offered include this theme as well as a repeating pumpkin theme.

Vintage housewares and furnishings were combined and displayed with found objects, collectible toys, exotic trinkets, unique textiles, and memorabilia to create a riot of color and personality. Many of the items in the auction will be sold in the exact grouping as Frank and Gail Zappa had them in the house.

The auction also includes memorabilia and personal items that document and celebrate the career of Frank Zappa and his love story with Gail. This includes a Dandies Fashions coat worn by Frank Zappa on the July 20, 1968 cover of Rolling Stone magazine (Estimate: $1,000-$2,000); a purple ribbed turtleneck worn by Frank Zappa in 200 Motels (United Artists, 1971) (Estimate: $600-$800); a stage worn vest that Zappa also wore on the back cover of the 1972 album Waka Jawaka; a collection of career related awards presented to Frank Zappa including various Gold records, a National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences Lifetime Achievement Award, and a GRAMMY® nomination plaque; a clay Thing-Fish model, a ukulele featured on the Thing-Fish album cover; and a collection of hotel keys collected by Frank and Gail in their travels (Estimates: Various).

Throughout his career, Zappa took music to places rarely trafficked. In an interview with The Times UK in 2013, Gail Zappa put it this way: when she first met him in 1966, his group, the Mothers of Invention, was “the LA band,” the real deal. “There were others -- the Byrds and the Doors and all that. But the real guys? It was the Mothers. Because they did stuff nobody else did, and they said things no one else would dare say.” That is part of the Frank Zappa legacy.

The Music of Marcel Duchamp

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Wednesday, April 13, 2016

The Music of Marcel Duchamp

 by Petr Kotik

In the turbulent years from 1912 to 1915, Marcel Duchamp, one of the most important artists of this century, worked with musical ideas. He composed two works of music and a conceptual piece -- a note suggesting a musical happening. Of the two compositions, one is for three voices and the other combines a piece for a mechanical instrument with a description of the compositional system.

  1. Erratum Musical (for three voices) (8:06)
    S.E.M. Ensemble

  2. Sculpture Musicale (Mesostic by John Cage) (4:06)
    John Cage, voice

  3. La Mariée mise à nu par ses Célibataires, même (10:42)
    Pianola version by Petr Kotik

  4. Sculpture Musicale (5:22)
    Musicboxes version by Petr Kotik

  5. La Mariée mise à nu par ses Célibataires, même (23:02)
    Realization for alto flute, trumpet, trombone, celesta, and marimbaphone by Petr Kotik. S.E.M. Ensemble

Although Marcel Duchamp's musical oeuvre is sparse, these pieces represent a radical departure from anything done up until that time. Duchamp anticipated with his music something that then became apparent in the visual arts, especially in the Dada Movement: the arts are here for all to create, not just for skilled professionals. Duchamp's lack of musical training could have only enhanced his exploration in compositions. His pieces are completely independent of the prevailing musical scene around 1913.

The pieces by Marcel Duchamp are all different. Two of them have been composed with chance operations, but in each case the method is different. The third piece is just a short note on a small, stray piece of paper. It is not possible to precisely date these pieces, but it is almost certain that they were all written in 1913.

Erratum Musical is written for three voices, included in the Green Box, which Duchamp published in 1934. It is undated, but has always been ascribed as having been written in Rouen in 1913. It was probably written during one of Duchamp's visits to his family, as his parents and sisters lived there. Duchamp wrote the piece for his two sisters and himself--each part is inscribed with a name: Yvonne, Magdelaine, Marcel. The three voices are written out separately, and there is no indication by the author, whether they should be performed separately or together as a trio.

In composing this piece, Duchamp the made three sets of 25 cards, one for each voice, with a single note per card. Each set of cards was mixed in a hat; he then drew out the cards from the hat one at a time and wrote down the series of notes indicated by the order in which they were drawn.

The second piece, La Mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires même. Erratum Musical (The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even. Erratum Musical) belongs to the series of notes and projects that Duchamp started to collect in 1912 and which led to the Large Glass. It was neither published nor exhibited during Duchamp's life. There are many notes and projects, each dealing with a different task. They are difficult material to work with, as there are no comments or explanations by Duchamp to assist with interpretation. Like many of them The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even. Erratum Musicalis unfinished and leaves many questions unanswered. Even so, it provides enough information for a successful realization.

There are two parts to the manuscript. One part contains the piece for a mechanical instrument. The piece is unfinished and is written using numbers instead of notes, but Duchamp very clearly explains the meaning of those numbers, which makes it very easy to transcribe them into notes. He also indicates the instrument(s) on which it should be performed: "player piano, mechanical organs or other new instruments for which the virtuoso intermediary is suppressed." the second part contains a description of the compositional system. Duchamp's title for the system is: An apparatus automatically recording fragmented musical periods.

The apparatus composing the piece is comprised of three parts: a funnel, several open-end cars, and a set of numbered balls. Each number on a ball represents a note (pitch) -- Duchamp suggested 85 notes according to the standard range of a piano of that time; today, almost all pianos have 88 notes. The balls fall through the funnel into the cars passing underneath at various speeds. When the funnel is empty, a musical period is completed.


The third piece Sculpture Musicale (Musical Sculpture) is is note on a small piece of paper, which Duchamp also included in the Green Box. According to Arturo Schwarz, the piece was written sometime during 1912 - 1920 /21, although 1913 is the most probable year. The Musical Sculpture is similar to the Fluxus pieces of the early 1960s. These works combine objects with performance, audio with visual, known and unknown factors, and elements explained and unexplained. A realization of such a piece can result in an event / happening, rather than a performance.


Of Duchamp's three works of music, only two can be performed using the existing manuscripts: the Erratum Musical for three voices and the Musical Sculpture. The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even. Erratum Musical requires completion. During March-October 1974 I made a complete realization of the work.

I transcribed the mechanical instrument piece into a notated score and realized it for a player piano. In 1976, a pianola music roll was produced at Q.R.S. Music Rolls in Buffalo, N.Y. This pianola roll can be used on any mechanical keyboard instrument (player piano, mechanical organ, etc.) which is made to the standard of the Chicago International Convention of 1912.

I have also followed the compositional system in realizing a score for a group of instruments by reconstructing "the apparatus"-- a funnel, seven cars, and six sets of balls. Duchamp wrote the piece in numbers, explaining their meaning and suggesting the instrumentation. The piece has eight divisions (I-VIII) which Duchamp calls periods -- "When the vase (funnel) is empty: the period of 85 notes (as many as) cars is inscribed..." Except periods No. I, V and VI all have 85 numbers (notes). Period No. 1 has not been recorded at all--the piece actually starts with period No. II. Periods No. V and VI have fewer than 85 notes (numbers): also the same numbers can be repeated in both wagons (No. V in J+K and No. VI in L+M).


Whatever explanation one would use for this occurrence is not important--it can only be a guess. Naturally, one has to respect the piece as written by its author. Besides the pianola piece, I used the compositional system to create an altogether new composition. I decided on an ensemble piece, using those instruments which were most easily available in the S.E.M. Ensemble at the time. I reconstructed the "apparatus"-- a funnel, seven open top cars, and several sets of balls. For the ensemble piece, I needed more than one set of balls. I used one set each for alto flute, trombone, glockenspiel and marimbaphone and two sets for celesta (two hands -- hence two sets). Each set had as many numbered balls as there were notes in the range of the particular instrument (each number representing one note -- from the lowest to the highest one).

Having a system that will produce all the notes of the piece and having the instrumentation, I had to decide how to place the notes in the score. It was clear that I had to find a formula for structuring the notes in the score rather than writing them down mechanically one after the other. Duchamp never mentioned anything about rhythm, and he did not use any rhythm in the two pieces he wrote out (the Erratum Musical and the instrument version of The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors Even. Erratum Musical). I came up with a method in which Duchamp's system actually generated the structuring of notes into the score. In other words, the system itself created the structure of special relationships between notes.

The placing of notes (numbers) in the score was determined by the way in which the balls came through the funnel and were taken out of the cars. The composition progressed from one step to the next, as each ball appeared, identified with a particular set (instrument). Each set of numbers was distinguished by a different color. For example: if I found 3 balls of the same set, the piece progressed three steps ahead. If I found 3 balls each from different sets, the notes (numbers) were written vertically, underneath one another, creating a chord.

The resulting score is ready to be performed, although markings for tempo, dynamics, etc. are missing. All these decisions can be made by the musicians themselves. How long to sustain each note, whether the piece should be performed "orderly" -- all parts to be coordinated vertically and horizontally -- or "freely" -- every performer performing independently, without respect to the other parts, all these aspects are determined by the performers.

In the process of composing the piece, I intentionally avoided implementing my own musical ideas. Indeed, it was a realization rather than a composition. The composition itself was determined by Duchamp in his description of the system and his examples of music scoring. One could say that such composition will result only in a formal, completely dry piece, not something one associates with a "creative work of art." this objection may be correct, but so what?

I have attempted to work as closely as possible to Duchamp's ideas and the spirit of his work during the period around 1913, as he remarked to James Johnson Sweeney in an interview in 1946: "that was the period when I changed completely from splashing paint on the canvas to an absolutely precise coordinate drawing, with no relation to arty handiwork... I wanted to go back to a completely dry drawing, a dry conception of art. I was beginning to appreciate the value of the exactness, of precision and the importance of chance. The result was that my work was no longer popular with amateurs..."

From Music of Marcel Duchamp, Edition Block + Paula Cooper Gallery, 1991


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John Cage and David Tudor - Music in the Technological Age (September 15, 2015)
John Cage and Morton Feldman In Conversation (September 8, 2015)
4'33'' Cage for guitar by Revoc (July 10, 2015)
John Cage: An Autobiographical Statement (May 22, 2015)
Angle(s) VI John Cage (April 30, 2015)
Morton Feldman (March 16, 2015)
Morton Feldman and painting (October 3, 2014)