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This is a transcript of the lecture by architect Anton Gorlenko*, which he presented in December 2018 at the I Music Space Architecture Festival in Moscow. Gorlenko contemplates the discrepancies between architecture and music, the differences between architectural performances and musical facades, soft pencils and methods of approaching, infinite forms and absolute sounds, silent architects, and high-speed driving on a church organ from a Swiss village to a Swedish graveyard, and back again.

I

While preparing this lecture, I intentionally avoided using examples outside my everyday practice. The lecture is concerned with architecture rather than music, so the festival’s subject – space, music, architecture – might be perceived as a projection plane through which I can once again look at the familiar architectural references.

These two worlds – the visible and the invisible – are intimately connected, but their reciprocal differences are so immense that the inescapable question arises: what is their boundary? Their boundary separates them; yet, simultaneously, it joins them. How do we understand this boundary?
Pavel Florensky, “Iconostasis”

— What is this category of inframince that you are talking about in the View’s special issue? “When the smoke of tobacco also smells of the mouth that exhales it, both smells mingle through the inframince”. Would you like to give us more examples?
— Exactly, one can only express it with examples. 

Denis de Rougemont, “Marcel Duchamp mine de rien (février 1968)”

II

These two quotes, which, somewhat paradoxically, come together here, will in one way or another accompany this presentation. Now, let us imagine a landscape – be it an abstract empty space, a physical landscape, or simply a white sheet of paper that includes the sum of everything possible. Let us distinguish from that landscape two entities that matter. Not necessarily architecture and music – but, in our case, let them be architecture and music. These two points, which we can mark with two round dots, are reminiscent of column projections in an architectural plan. Architects use columns to underpin crucial places in space. However, the interrelations between the two entities are not manifested and remain unclear – there is a specific tension between them. We can join them in a straightforward manner. Certain similarities can be established now that they are within a shared space.

Nevertheless, in order to set up what is familiar, we need to define the differences first. Only when the distinction is made can one start looking for the areas in which they connect. Let us think of a simple diagram in which we can see a primitive plan of a temple of Janus, the ancient Roman deity.
Janus had two faces looking in opposite directions: one was the face of a young man, and the other was of an adult or an old man. It was believed that one face looked into the future, whereas the other – looked into the past. Aside from connections in time, Janus, as a deity, was responsible for spatial relationships. He may be considered a genuinely architectural deity – since he was a god of doors, archways, passages, and of all the ways one can transgress physical borders. Janus is posited precisely at the point where the distinct entities touch. We shall employ this character to look at several architectural projects of the 20th century, including one musical project.

III

We perceive architecture as something that has been there before us. However, the paradox is that most buildings we encounter will live much longer than us and remain after we are gone. Thus, the limits of architecture in time cannot be seen. However, we clearly distinguish its spatial limits since architecture is a material form. If the material boundary of a building is defined finitely – as a meeting point of matter and non-matter – then where does the limit of our perception of architecture lie?

Let us begin at a distance. Far in the landscape, we see an object. Are we already observing architecture, or are we not yet? Has it already begun, or should we come closer for it to start being perceived? What kind of architecture do we perceive in that space? Would we still perceive it similarly if we take a step back? We approach the building and then find ourselves inside it. Now, I would like to talk about this boundary – our perception of a building from the inside and outside. What lies between these two conditions is what architects call the facade.

In music, as opposed to architecture, the material boundary is vague, but the limit of perception is definitely distinguished by existing cultural conventions of performance and listening. Clearly enough, we can tell where the music begins and ends. In preparation for this talk, I asked myself what can be considered as a facade for a musical piece? Is the non-material nature of a musical work exactly what provides its imaginary facade with the attributes of the inframince described by Duchamp? And, perhaps, is this something Duchamp had in mind saying that he couldn’t give a definition of the inframince but could provide examples? Following this line, I shall attempt to give examples of several musical facades.

I will show several buildings that are in a literal, non-metaphoric way related to music and production of sound or are altogether musical instruments scaled to an edifice. I will focus on how the architects articulate the plane responsible for the interrelationships between the external and the internal.

IV

The first object is a private house built by architect Peter Märkli for a family of musicians in the Swiss town of Rumisberg. The house consists of a large music studio, where the residents arrange rehearsals, recording sessions and performances; and a living room which stretches between the studio space and the landscape. The building’s central theme, thus, is the relationship between the house and the vast landscape panorama unfolding behind the house.  In this connection, all the economic and intellectual efforts of the clients and the architect were directed towards articulating the facade that separates the music performance space from nature. Märkli has repeatedly stated that the essential feature in the relationship between the building and the landscape is the figure of the open-glazed corners of the building, providing more expansive diagonal vistas. In European architecture, historically, the corners of the houses are strengthened, literally or rhetorically, through decoration – a rustication called quoin, both in English and French. For Markli, thus, the missing quoins become the apophatic [1] figure. However, having opened up the corners, he, as if to compensate for it, installs two bulky mullions imitating a rough rustication in concrete – thus closing a part of the landscape view in the central part of the facade. What matters here is the balance between the openness towards the landscape and the manifested material presence of the facade. Had he kept the facade entirely transparent, it would have lost constructive tension. The mullions become a version of transformed quoins unfolded and stretched into two-dimensional facade planes. In this manner, there remains a balance between the musical space inside and the landscape outside.

I would like to quote a verse from a poem by the Swedish poet Tomas Tranströmer that, in my opinion, can become the quoin for this analysis: The music is a glasshouse on the slope where stones fly, stones roll. And the stones roll right through, but each pane remains whole [Trans. Ingar Palmlund]. Tranströmer was an amateur pianist, and even though he suffered a stroke in 1992 that made the right side of his body paralysed, he continued his exercises on the piano, playing solely with his left hand. For him, music is a fragile and evanescent home in space, and its glass walls remain intangible. In 2011, Tranströmer received a Nobel Prize in literature.

***

Before transitioning to the next project, I will demonstrate a fragment from quite a naive architectural project I made as a student of the Architectural Association in London. I show it obviously not to put myself in a row with the other examples I find as great masterpieces, but rather to prove my long-standing interest in the topic. This room is part of an extensive complex where an organ is positioned against the opening of a big arched window. While revisiting this work several years later, I was somewhat surprised to discover the presence of a specific relation between the organ, the facade, the window and the landscape outside. The figure in the collage is Tranströmer, who, for the sake of composition, had to be shown mirrored: he is playing solely with his right hand.

V

We shall now transfer to Basel. A competition for a design of a new organ for the city cathedral (Basel Minster) was held here in 2002, and Peter Märkli’s studio won the competition and realised the project. The organ is placed in the choir gallery on the western wall. It consists of two wooden containers in which all the pipes are brought together, with the organist sitting in the middle. In all the project’s explanations, Märkli points out that the main architectural task was to clear a view from the church’s interior onto the western Gothic window. By doing so, he directs our attention to a peculiar transformation that characterises many church buildings in Western Europe. The medieval churches built between the 10th and the 14th centuries had an established stained glass rose window. Since the advent of the baroque organ, these churches began to lose this feature. The organ would be built into the space in the choir, hiding the western window. In a way, the clash between a church organ and the rose window of a Western facade reflects the very history of how the public’s sense organs, namely eyes and ears, were transforming too. Gradually, the focus of church services has shifted from the visible to the audible. Märkli agrees with this by saying that we live in the times when people have unlearned how to use their eyes.

The organ in Basel looks like a small independent building detached from the body of the cathedral so that it is possible to observe the western window. Here, I would like to go a little bit further into the subject to find out how the aspect of Christian ontology can also be applied to this project. In a conversation with [architectural photographer] Yuri Palmin, Märkli once mentioned a particular Russian icon that staggered his imagination – even though, for a while, he couldn’t figure out what was depicted in it.

This iconography is called Hetoimasia, or prepared throne. The Hetoimasia iconography existed in the times of early Christianity, but it also was still present much later – in the mosaics and paintings of the 12th and 13th centuries. It depicts a throne prepared for the Second Coming with the instruments of the Passion laid upon it, as well as the book and a cross erected on it. The image which Markli had been referring to was painted on the back side of the well-known 12th-century icon Virgin of Vladimir. According to the common attribution, the reverse was painted later, not earlier than the 15th century.

Another example of iconography is the mosaic by Pietro Cavallini from the Basilica of Saint Paul Outside the Walls in Rome. It depicts two angels standing on the sides of the throne on which Jesus Christ is expected to ascend. Two of them are announcing the end of the world. The association between the angels’ pipes and the registers of the organ lies on the surface. Instead of getting deep into the peculiarities of the history of this iconography and eschatology [2] in general, let us now treat it as an architectural scheme – a spatial archetype, a three-part composite with two flanking volumes between which a tense pause is created. Hetoimasia is explicitly an architectural subject since instead of a character or event, it shows the empty space open for the upcoming event. Hetoimasia means readiness in Greek, which stresses the tension sensed in the empty centre of the composition of Märkli’s organ. Märkli is deeply, and possibly subconsciously, immersed in the archetypes, tropes and themes of the Western European culture. To a degree, he manages not as much to employ symbolic plots in architecture, but essentially to reproduce the very structure of an architectural event with maximum simplicity.

Let us take a look at the facade of Basel Minster. Here is an approximation of what the projection of the organ’s volume onto the main facade would look like. Then, we see it in a longitudinal section: the cathedral’s facade and the organ. There is a distinctive thing about it: the organ doesn’t touch the walls, and the rear groups of pipes and the square wooden manuals are not employed in the work of the organ. These are the pipes from the old organ, which Märkli kept to create the walls of a new construction, possibly now affecting the sound as resonators.

As we enter the cathedral, or in other words, cross the line of the main facade, we look back to see a small building that is the organ, which has its own main facade made of thin vertical elements. Märkli preferred not to hide the organ, yet he needed the most delicate boundary possible. To me, this represents the inframince that Duchamp talks about. In one of the few examples he gave, the inframince is a gap between an intention and its realisation. This facade is counter-structural, for it is suspended from the ceiling and stretched between the cathedral’s walls. It is not a pure intention already in this case since it exists physically, but it is not yet a realisation as it can hardly be seen. It reminds me of the thin frames of iconostases in Russian churches with icons taken out.

With the figure of the organ, the building turns itself inwards, and, like Janus, finds its second face, or facade. But this secondary facade of the organ is also flipped upside down. This flip is logically articulated because, when the column stands, the point of structural tension is situated at its top, where the beam rests. If the column is suspended, and a horizontal lintel is suspended on it, then the point of structural tension will be found at the column’s lowest point. These charged intersections of the vertical and the horizontal are emphasised with small sculptures by Hans Josephsohn.

***

We have now reached the middle of the lecture, and before we move on from Basel to 1920s Sweden, we shall recover for a second and find ourselves in Moscow. When Märkli built his organ for Basel, the previous organ, which had been built about 70 years before, was acquired and reinstalled in the Catholic Cathedral on Malaya Gruzinskaya Street in Moscow.

VI

We shall now speak about the projects of another architect, Sigurd Lewerentz (1885-1975). We see a landscape again, which is the southern cemetery of Stockholm. This alley, called Seven Springs Way, was cut through a pine forest according to the design of Lewerentz, aiming to connect the so-called Memory Hill with the Chapel of Resurrection. The Chapel is what we see at the end of the alley, or rather, to be precise, we almost don’t see it. Once again, I ask myself: do we already perceive architecture at this distance or not quite yet? Upon walking through this path, observing graves placed on both sides, we find ourselves by the Chapel. If, in the case of Märkli, we focused on the static, the precession and the expectation, now, with Lewerentz, who is primarily known for his church and cemetery architecture, we address patterns and well-choreographed movements through landscapes and buildings. That is the architectural expression of the rituals of lamenting and funeral. Lewerentz’s architecture is based on the idea of slow walking, procession and a path in general.

The Chapel of the Resurrection was built in 1925. Its porch stands at the end of a long vista, and it seems to be a detached element paratactically placed next to the monolithic volume of the chapel. This detail is very well known to everyone who has been there. The porch does not only stand independently from the building – it is also positioned at a slight angle to it, about two or three degrees, thus forming a very thin wedge slit. The matter here is that the vista and the road along which the chapel is aligned make an oblique angle, just under 90 degrees. Articulation of this slight divergence could not be merely explained by Swedish pedanticism but also, in fact, a way for Lewerentz to justify an actual separation of the porch from the chapel itself, thus accentuating the porch’s disjointedness from it and balancing what goes on inside the chapel.

As we come below the porch and pass on into the chapel, for a split second, we stand beneath the open sky – before we get inside. This is another example of the inframince. A visually single building is, in fact, split in two. In the centre of the chapel space is a pedestal for the coffin and a baldachin [3]. The mourners sit at the sides of the coffin. On the wall to the right is the only large window. Speaking of a procession, it would be natural to orient the chapel along the alley axis, which would help avoid the odd angle. But for Lewerentz, this would not be acceptable for one reason. We are dealing here with two primary axes. The first axis is the path of the living who come from the Memory Grove along the Way of the Seven Wells. Another axis, crisscrossing the first one, is the path of the dead. After the service, a coffin is brought outside to the mortuary rooms, where it is awaiting the burial. If the chapel was aligned along the alley, those who enter the chapel would meet head-on with a coffin being brought out.

Particular attention should be given to the decor conceived by the architect. The entrance for the living (on the left) is richly ornamented, whilst the exit for the dead (on the right) requires no ornamentation, for those who leave through that door never look back and never return. However, if the second portal requires no ornament on the outside, it obviously requires special decoration inside the chapel. The wall through which the coffin is brought out stands between the two worlds. And that is precisely where the organ is placed.

Russian architect Alexander Brodsky mentioned after visiting the chapel that having seen all the buildings by Lewerentz at the cemetery, he was stricken by one sole detail: the rear-view mirror on the organ – just like in a car (AB) – so that during the funeral organist can observe what is happening behind him in the hall. Here, we are dealing with two axes of movement, for the living and for the dead, and with an organist at the point of their intersection. He faces the other world but, while playing, occasionally casts an eye back at the world of the living.

VII

We are moving from Stockholm to Malmö in the south of Sweden, to the location of another project by Lewerentz: a cemetery he has been working on throughout his life. It is noteworthy that the buildings along the main route of the visitors are in a reversed order of the time of their creation. The famous late work of Lewerentz – a flower kiosk – stands by the entrance. Further along the way is a detached bell tower, and at the very end of the alley is his early St. Bridget’s Chapel. We shall stop by the bell tower.

This building stands in a small recess of the landscape, in a field of uncut meadow grass, and comprises a concrete frame with openings filled with limestone slabs. Two pivoted bells are installed inside the tower so that the pivot is directed perpendicularly to the road. This means that the bells, as they ring, distribute the sound along the road and towards the people who approach it or walk. That is why the lateral sides of the frame remain open while the facade looking towards the road is fully closed. This is the main facade. The cross faces the cemetery entrance along the direction of sound. The bell tower has no staircase – the bells are set in motion from the ground through a special gear. Although the building does have a facade, it is primarily designed for the bells, not for people.

Speaking of this musical facade, I would like to refer to the notion by Walter Benjamin, who has articulated and developed the idea of aura – here and now, which became one of the essential concepts of his aesthetic theory. In his writings, aura is not an object or a specific thing with its property but rather a way of perception. He states that the condition for an object’s aura exists if human relationships are carried over to the relationships between a man and an object. When we look at an object, the aura can appear if the entity has something to make it seem as though it looks back at us. It seems to me that the facade of Lewerentz’s bell tower is precisely the case. The building is bigger than a human, but being human-like, it looks back at us.

VIII

The final point in our journey is the German city of Halberstadt, where, in my opinion, one of the most exciting events in the field of music to this day has been happening. In 2001, in St. Burchardi church, a performance of John Cage’s As Slow as Possible (a version for the organ) started. The first version was written in 1985 for piano, including eight parts. As slow as possible is the composer’s designation of the performance tempo. Usually, the performance lasts from 20 to about 70 minutes. The choice of tempo is up to the performer.

In a conference held in 1997 in Germany, composers, philosophers, theologists and architects conceived a performance of the second version of this piece for the organ and in the course of this colloquium, the idea to build an organ that could play this piece really slowly appeared. The organ was built in the semi-abandoned St. Burchard church. It was methodically calculated that the performance would last for 639 years – until the year 2640. 

The reasoning for this exact number is as follows: in 1361 in Halberstadt, the first European organ with a 12-tone keyboard was built. The conference participants decided that if 639 years have passed since the first European organ was made, then the new organ created specifically for the performance of Cage’s work should play for exactly as long. 

When the performance started in 2001 the pause at the beginning of the notation took 17 months so the organ remained silent. Or rather, it was not completely quiet. It’s just that not a single key was pressed whilst the bellows were pumping air throughout. Here, in a certain sense, we also deal with the aura phenomenon. By the way, the ancient Greek word αυρα means breeze or light wind. So, the first 17-month-long breath of the organ was an act of effusing pure aura. Now, 18 years later, we are approximately in the second bar of the piece [As of 2018 – Ed.]. 

Now, we can see that this project somehow brings together everything we discussed today: the inframince, the possibility of looking simultaneously into the past and future, and the music piece whose temporal limits stretch beyond one’s perception as if obtaining the characteristic of architecture. Having entered the church, one sees another small structure, the one of the organ. By intuitively identifying oneself with this animated inhabitant, one gets a clear vision of their finitude – in both space and time.

***

For what is time? Who can readily and briefly explain this? Who can even in thought comprehend it, so as to utter a word about it? But what in discourse do we mention more familiarly and knowingly, than time? And, we understand, when we speak of it; we understand also, when we hear it spoken of by another. What then is time? If no one asks me, I know: if I wish to explain it to one that asketh, I know not: yet I say boldly that I know, that if nothing passed away, time past were not; and if nothing were coming, a time to come were not; and if nothing were, time present were not. Those two times then, past and to come, how are they, seeing the past now is not, and that to come is not yet? But the present, should it always be present, and never pass into time past, verily it should not be time, but eternity. If time present (if it is to be time) only cometh into existence, because it passeth into time past, how can we say that either this is, whose cause of being is, that it shall not be; so, namely, that we cannot truly say that time is, but because it is tending not to be?
Augustine, Confessions, book XI, chapter XIV

[1] Involving the practice of describing something by stating which characteristics it does not have. (“apophatic.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2024. https://www.merriam-webster.com (3 January 2024).
[2] A branch of theology concerned with the final events in the history of the world or of humankind. (“eschatology.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2024. https://www.merriam-webster.com (3 January 2024).
[3] A cloth canopy fixed or carried over an important person or a sacred object.(“baldachin.” Merriam-Webster.com. 2024. https://www.merriam-webster.com (3 January 2024).

*Anton Gorlenko (b. 1982) is an architect and researcher based in Berlin. He studied art history at Moscow State University (2004) and architecture at the Architectural Association in London (2015). Since 2015, Anton has been running Gorlenko Studio, a collective working on architectural, educational and research projects. The studio works on residential and public commissions, focusing on scenarios for the adaptation and reuse of historical monuments, among which the concert hall MIRA centre in Suzdal (completed in 2022) and the restoration of the former office of Novo-Sukharevsky Market by Konstantin Melnikov (in progress). Anton contributes as a photographer of architecture to the Takero Shimazaki Architects (London). He has translated into Russian and edited Pier Vittorio Aureli’s “The Possibility of an Absolute Architecture” and “Less is Enough”, and Colin Rowe’s “Collage City”, published by Strelka Press. In 2017-2020, Anton ran a BA degree studio at the March School of Architecture in Moscow.