October 07, 2003

Functional Form

Virginia Postrel had a couple of interesting posts recently about the visual aesthetics of musical instruments.

I play pipe organ (solo) as well as Hammond Organ and electronic keyboards (in a band), so I have some direct experience with these matters. While I am an amateur organist, I did study four years with a great professor (Frank Speller) on one of the best and most beautiful instruments in North America at UT-Austin.

Pipe organs are each truly unique, and exist at an interesting intersection of music, architecture, interior design, history, and geography. There is no "standard" organ in the sense that there is a standard grand piano (88 keys) or acoustic guitar (6 strings). There has been a long-running debate going on in the pipe organ community about the aesthetics of a major new organ being built by Glatter-Goetz/Rosales going into the Frank Gehry-designed Walt Disney concert hall in Los Angeles. Gehry himself has described the organ facade he helped design as a "box of french fries."

In the context of the building, the organ design seems perfectly suited to its environment. But many organists have their drawers in a bunch because of the perceived lack
of "dignity." They have already passed judgment on it as an atrocity. Mind you, no one has yet even heard a note played on the instrument, which is likely to be on a par with other great modern concert hall organs (at the Meyerson, the Benaroya, etc.)

I just hope the sound of the organ is as bold as its visual design.

Posted by JohnL at October 7, 2003 11:21 PM
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