Thanks for all the responses. It struck me that the work of Reich and Glass was/is mathematical in arrangement. If LaMonte Young and Terry Riley started the movement on the coast then Reich and Glass brought it to the city. It reflected it's architecture. So therefore would it be possible to take the information contained within the written scores and generate a possible two or three dimensional model. I was thinking using the rhythm and spaces time division within musical notation the hierarchy of notes within the scale attributing colour values to each and so on. It is perhaps difficult to get across because I'm working it out as I go. It'll be a collaborative process as I'm a non-musician but I like that idea as much as genuine non-pedigree architecture. That is why I have introduced the proposal here. It is merely a concept that I'd like to see fly and if it does I may then approach the composers for their thoughts.

  • When you say "how it might translate 3-dimensionally", do you mean "how it might translate into an architectural form"? Music theory does deal with questions of form, but not in any way that would clearly translate into 3 dimensions as far as I am aware (though I stand to be schooled!) – topo Reinstate Monica Mar 4 '19 at 14:59
  • @topomorto well, I can think of many parameters that one could use to form 3D images. Pitch, amplitude, and waveform, for example. Not that I recommend this! – Carl Witthoft Mar 4 '19 at 15:04
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    @CarlWitthoft yes sorry, I was a bit wobbly with my language.... I meant that though it's possible to think of lots of measurable things that you could translate into dimensional information, it's not clear to me that simple mappings of any of those to 3D positions are going to create a useful structure. But then maybe a mapping of something more abstract (like hierarchical levels of organisation) might bear fruit.... hmm.... – topo Reinstate Monica Mar 4 '19 at 16:17
  • Even if there is not a direct translation of music to 3-D there is something to explain about the structure of minimalism and relating it to architecture. Is the closing group really unaware of historic relationships such as Baroque music and the periods highly ornamental architecture, or the connection with Modernism and decorative elements in a 20th century skyscraper? – Michael Curtis Mar 4 '19 at 19:50
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    @MichaelCurtis there's a lot of possible directions this could go in and even if the question was clear there's a lot of ground to cover on the structure of minimalist pieces in general. The base unit tends to be very simple, but the nuances that come in the layering and transformation of that idea can have a lot of depth that is hard to cover in this format. – Dom Mar 4 '19 at 20:04

There are a few features of Music in Fifths that could translate into 3d form design.

  1. The basic structure is composed of patterns that while being repeated are slowly morphing. The beauty and true craft in this piece is how a small changes might have a dramatic impact. I'm sure something similar is achievable in visual arts or architecture, where subtle change in repeating patterns has a big visual impact. It could actually be reflected quite accurately with a patterns that have looped endings and the number of loops increases as pattern evolves.

  2. The basic harmonic building block - the fifths - might be viewed as "a building block that is traditionally frowned upon" and I think that could be also translated into architectural form. It's not easy to "build stuff" out of parallel fifths.

  3. IMO what this piece does to our heads is akin to optical illusion in visual arts - it tries to confuse us as to where the phrase begins or ends, constantly shifting and phasing the simple material.

  4. General austerity of the form and content

But obviously it's all quite personal, and more of a creative endeavour that strict "translation". And I'm not an architect so might get certain things terribly wrong :)


There is a kind "code-ish" approach that could be taken where three musical parameters would be mapped to the 3 physical dimensions. The musical parameters could be pitch, amplitude, waveform, duration, etc. But such mapping will be arbitrary. I cannot imagine it will result in any 3-D form that would stand up like architecture. I put the word in air quotes, because I feel such effort don't actual reveal any true underlying connection between different media.

Of course music is a temporal art. Traditionally harmony is understood to have grammar/syntax qualities. Some music theory draws comparisons to language. Some of those comparisons are very direct like rhythm and poetry meters. Others less direct like musical phrasing and punctuation, or cadences and rhyme. This is an interesting comparison, but it doesn't take us into three dimensions.

Another temporal art closely aligned to music is dance. The interesting thing about comparing music and dance is that dance is a 3-D art. It many not seem to fit the current info-graphic, code-ish fads, but dance might offer some ideas for how to interpret music in a 3-D medium. Below is an illustration of choreography notation from Friedrich Albert Zorn matched to music notation. It stumbled upon this very recently looking for musical rhythm study approaches. I don't really know how that dance notation translates to 3-D, but my main point is to show some example of interpreting music into a 3-D art...

enter image description here

Two other thoughts:

Melodic contour is the technical term for the general shape of a notated line. I have read texts that describe one common contour as an "arch." That's obviously an architectural reference. That particular comparison seems appropriate for elevation or cross section drawings.

An "arch" contour:

enter image description here

Minimalism doesn't really work with grand melodic contours like you get in symphonies. Instead it's more about short rhythmic patterns. Visually it reminds me of Arabic tile patterns. From that perspective it might be more appropriate to make comparisons with decorative elements or perhaps floor plans.

When I say 'decorative' I don't mean strictly decorative like a pilaster, but perhaps things like brick work patterns or exploiting some kind of transparency effect where two patterns on two planes (posts, screens, windows, etc. or perhaps their shadows) combine. Such overlapped patterns would change as the viewer moved through the space. Kind of like moire patterns. That type of gradual pattern change would reflect pattern manipulation in minimalist music which uses a lot of composite rhythms and small changes to generate new patterns of accents and syncopation.

These are just a few of my thoughts. I hope some of it is interesting or helpful.

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    ...and the reason for a down vote? – Michael Curtis Mar 5 '19 at 13:26
  • Hey Michael thanks for that. I don't know about the down vote I don't know how that happened cause it's all up for me. Some helpful ideas there let's keep the conversation going and how do I do this vote thing? I didn't do it the other kids did and ran away. – Kit Marlowe Mar 5 '19 at 17:37
  • I appreciate hearing from you! Voting is done with up/down wedges at the top/left of each question or answer. – Michael Curtis Mar 5 '19 at 17:43
  • The damn thing keeps defaulting to minus one every time I click up. It's not me it's in the machine. Technology is fantastic when it works. Have you seen Brazil? you might want to change your name .....think on. – Kit Marlowe Mar 5 '19 at 18:23
  • Computers! Well, that's OK, I'm glad my answer was helpful in some way. – Michael Curtis Mar 5 '19 at 19:17

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