Music Through Architecture – Contributions to an Expanded Practice in Composition
Diogo Alvim, 2016
Practice-based PhD Thesis in Sonic Arts
Sonic Arts Research Centre
Queen’s University Belfast

This research is an inquiry into how architecture can inform, or contribute to the practice of composition. As an architect and composer, I try to find strategies for musical composition in architectural practice and thought, by reframing and confronting concepts and methodologies from both disciplines. My research aims at an expanded practice (and analysis) of musical creation, one that transverses different conceptions of space—from the score based pitch space to the social and political spaces of music’s production, performance and reception.

This practice based PhD research consists of a portfolio of nine works that were developed in a dialectical relation to these ideas. The works are presented in a framework composed of five conceptual tools used to articulate music and architecture. These are Material, Site, Drawing, Programme and Use.

With the notion of Material, I explore how the acoustic behaviour of a performance space, or of a ‘performative device’ affects the musical work. Architectural materials become musical ones as they are implicated in the listening experience. The discussion about Site brings to music the notions of place, the local, and everyday life, embracing soundscapes so many times excluded from musical discourse. Musical sites are also architectural sites, always related to their present environment, and their everyday contingencies. Drawing is a tool for developing ideas, for thinking (the sketch), but also the main mediator between architect and builder, or composer and performer (notation). When considered in a broad frame of possibilities, from symbolic to graphic systems, it helps to redefine the roles and ultimately to redefine the work itself. Programme exposes the constraints and conditions of the creation process, while also revealing the socio-political relations between musicians and audiences, institutions and composers, composers and performers. Programming as framing can be a platform to expand what the work concerns. Through a consideration of Use, the work becomes dispersed in a plurality of agents that converge in a useful event. Thus composition, as architecture, moves from being about conditioning design to designing conditions where musical events may happen.