Terpsichorean Architecture: Guest Editor’s Introduction

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Tony Mitchell


‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture – it’s a really stupid thing to want to do,’ is a statement usually attributed to Elvis Costello in Musician magazine No. 60 (October 1983, 52), which has long been quoted as evidence of the impossibility of writing adequately about the processes of producing and listening to music. Leaving aside the fact that Costello has denied he ever said it, and it has been mistakenly attributed to a number of other musicians over the years, including Laurie Anderson, David Byrne and Frank Zappa (who actually said ‘rock journalism is people who can't write, preparing stories based on interviews with people who can't talk, in order to amuse people who can't read’), this special journal issue sets out to prove the contrary. The papers in this special issue draw on evidence of the volume of important writing that exists about all forms of music, in academic, journalistic and creative fields, and discuss different ways in which music has been ‘translated’ into language. The English jazz writer Paul Savage, for example, describing the music of John Coltrane, refers to ‘a musical monument like that feat of terpsichorean architecture Giant Steps’. And in a 2004 issue of the Architectural Review (vol. 216, August) entitled ‘Terpsichore and the Architects,’ Simon Goldhill notes that in ancient Greek theatre, ‘the chorus danced the architecture of the theatrical space into being’ and ‘the dancer was a storyteller whose body told a story, like a sculpture coming alive or a mobile embodiment of tradition.’ Choreographer Siobhan Davies speaks of the dancer building ‘an inner architecture with volume, texture and rhythm, which allows you to slice up space … Classical ballet and classical architecture share proportion, grandeur, and the idea of being at the centre of the universe … Light and acoustics are very important in dance and architecture: we have to consider how we introduce light to form and how we hear ourselves live in that form.’ This special issue, guest edited by Tony Mitchell, University of Technology Sydney, contains papers that discuss a wide range of different modes and forms of music and music writing in all fields, and in many parts of the world, from a perspective of history, performance, and architecture (including ‘natural’ architectural forms).

Article Details

Terpsichorean Architecture: Writing about Music Special Issue January 2011 (Peer Reviewed)