Soundtrack for the Floating Islands

Gabriel Rodríguez Pellecer


For his 1982 film Fitzcarraldo, Werner Herzog based the story on the life of an opera lover who is obsessed with the idea of building a theater in the middle of the Amazon jungle. Alejandro Paz’s proposal for LIGA has a certain similarity with the action of this character. Alejandro is not an orchestra conductor, but in a way being an architect is a way of conducting space. For this work, the chamber orchestra is hidden beneath the gallery space and plays a live performance for an audience who can’t see them. Like in Fitzcarraldo, the orchestra performs to be heard in a jungle that acts as the audience.

We could imagine that music, presented in a single dimension, doesn’t fill space, but it is because of space that it reaches our ears. The gallery is empty of objects, but full of music.

I have often thought about proximity and distance as relative concepts. A crime could be taking place in the building where I live and I’d have no idea about it. This can also happen at an ideological level. We can witness an injustice, but if we lack the right sensibility, we don’t actually see it.

Tectonic plates are in constant movement but we don’t feel them. The Earth revolves around the sun and on its own axis, and we don’t perceive it. Sometimes imperceptible things are the ones that have the most effect on our own body. Architecture is one such form of silent influence.

Working on this sensibility allows us to better appreciate reality. Architecture can function as a frame for the landscape. What would happen if we turned music into a frame for architectural space? Alejandro Paz’s experiment is an approach to this strategy. Music fills the space we believe to be empty. Pieces of music function as spaces, with notes as the bricks, melody as the structure. To articulate music as architecture, it needs composition. In his 1961 book Silence, John Cage wrote that a musician is more someone who puts sounds in order, rather than someone who composes melodies. In similar fashion, an architect can become a composer of spaces.

In 2007, Werner Herzog directed a documentary entitled Encounters at the End of the World. Among the various characters who appear is a group of biologists researching the behavior of seals. They like to hear the sounds emitted by the seals beneath the ice. The ice functions as a great natural slab that separates the biologists from the water. Something similar happens with the way Mexico City is built over a great lake. The section of the building that is home to the LIGA gallery, where the musicians perform, is what separates us from the subsoil.

Alejandro Paz’s piece converts us all into biologists listening for the sounds rising from beneath the surface of the earth. Herzog is moved by the way the seal specialists record the sounds, pointing out that they seem to be produced by a synthesizer. Nature can become a spectacle when it meets the artificial. Architecture as an island built over the water is a striking feat. Paz adds a soundtrack to this spectacle.