Musicking and the Lowry Centre


Thoroughly enjoying Christopher Small's book Musicking. "Every building" he Look at the size of that squeegee - a man cleaning the windows at the Lowry Centre. Clicking here takes you to my gallery of Lowry Centre picssays, "from the tiniest hut to the biggest airport terminal, is designed and built to house some aspect of human behaviour and relationships, and its design reflects its builders' assumptions about that behaviour and those relationships....A conventional school building, for example, with its rows of boxlike classrooms joined by corridors, its assembly hall, its gymnasium and its staff room, is built in accordance with certain assumptions about what young people in our society ought to learn and how they ought to learn it. But it also enforces those assumptions, making difficulties for those who might have different ideas." (Wesleyan University Press, 1998, p. 20).

This is background to his main theme of what goes on in concert halls and why, and how they, like schools, hospitals or other buildings, enforce our assumptions about what goes on (or should go on) inside them. Musicking makes me feel better about not getting excited about arts centres, or the stuff that is programmed for them.

When it comes to the Lowry Centre (the link is to my photo gallery from a recent trip) in Salford, I'm in two minds. It's very photogenic, and as arts centres go, the spaces are cavernous and comfortable. But it does bug me, now that I'm in Musicking mode, that we choose not to build schools or hospitals like this; that we have give more thought to prettifying a hangar containing the Imperial War Museum (Salford branch) than to your local hospital.

And then there's the question of music. Music is a real problem for designers, it seems to me. Recently I stayed in a posh hotel in Berlin that had masterpieces of sculpture and painting all over the foyer, which was as grandiose as the Lowry centre. But bang in the middle of it was some third-rate cruise-ship reject with a synthesizer annexed to a baby grand in the bar, singing atrocious versions of MOR songs, badly arranged, badly miked, spoiling the carefully and expensively manufactured atmosphere of Hochkultur as comprehensively and penetratingly as a fart in Penhaligons.

Likewise the Lowry Centre. I went down to the beautifully designed café, overlooking the beautifully designed quays, in the beautifully designed arts centre, housing the great and the good in the international arts scene. I took with me a book - about music, as it happens - to read in between rehearsals, but I had to put it down and give up trying to read it, and stare at the menu instead, because the Lowry Centre opts to play MOR pop music in the bar and restaurant, full volume, all day. They might as well have pebble-dashed the exterior and put flock wallpaper in the theatre, for all the good this does culturally.

If you're going to spend millions on an arts centre which in every way shouts Art! Modernism! High culture! Musical Museum! at you, why pay so little attention to the effect that music has in that space? How can you ignore the way that it turns the building into a simulacrum of an airport lounge or shopping mall? What does it say about the management that allowed this to happen - does it reveal that they are inwardly such Philistines that they are oblivious to the music around them? Or are they so attached to a 19th century model of music & concert halls that they don't consider anything that happens outside an auditorium to be music at all, particularly if it doesn't belong to the Western art music canon? Or (and I hope this isn't the case) that we are indeed intended to feel as if we are in a shopping mall or an airport, because the true function of the building is not as a temple to the arts, but another incitement to shop, to consume, to part mindlessly with cash as we would anywhere else?


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This page contains a single entry by Jonathan published on April 10, 2006 1:42 AM.

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