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  • Writer's pictureRicky

Jazz bends Music like a Gaudí Building

I recently got to listen to a jazz concert on the roof of Antoni Gaudí’s magnificent La Pedrera.


Meet the building that teaches you how to read it.



I was intrigued not just to hang out on the roof, but because they’d be playing vibraphone, which is basically a jazz xylophone. Quick power ranking on my favorite jazz instruments:

  1. Vibraphone

  2. Electric Guitar

  3. Saxophone


Vibraphones are great. Look, here’s some you can listen to now!



But obviously, I wanted a chance to hang around inside this ridiculous building, too. And it did not disappoint.



The building’s organic textures and winding Seussian corridors pull you around every corner. It feels like the building must have sprouted and grown in place rather than being built there.


And as you pass through the upper levels, a series of glass exhibits compare forms from nature—seeds, shells, skeletons—whose motifs are undeniable in Gaudí’s work. Each case focuses on a particular adjective:



The first one, warped, seems to be the result of a difficult translation.


The closest word In Spanish would be something like ‘torceados,’ but instead we’re given ‘alabeados’ which is closer to meaning shaped or twisted.


And in Catalan—the real native language around here, Viva Catalonia—we’re given the word ‘guerxes’ (~ GAIR-shez) which I think is closer to crooked or bent.



Anyway, here are all five adjectives we get to meet:

  • warped (alabeados/guerxes)

  • protective

  • wavy

  • compacted

  • curved


Learning to speak and think and inhabit the space in terms of these adjectives is way more interesting than going Wow it’s so weird and whimsical!


But look at what’s happening.

The exhibition space is teaching you how to read it on its own terms.


It shows you how to read these adjectives in the python skeleton on display. Then it shows you the skeleton of the floor you’re standing in right now:



And then as you ascend the winding staircase, up and up and up and up and suddenly you’re at the top. The ticket said you could get wine or a soft drink, but a copa was handed to me as soon as I arrived.


Wow.



The rooftop guardians literally tower over you, which really does make you feel small and weirdly protected. Each overlooks an incredible panorama of the city but my pictures are lousy.


And the building still has you in the palm of its hand. Once you’re on the roof, the steps are shaped to guide you towards the edge so you can peer over at the same forms cascading down. Suddenly you go, Those windows are the building’s eyes! as the undulating walls form lids and brows around them.



And then, with a bit of copa in my system, I peered up at the jazz musicians through the

  • warped (alabeados/guerxes)

  • protective

  • wavy

  • compacted

  • curved

railing. And I began to hear the music differently.



With birds flying overhead and the sun setting in the background, I realized I could try to hear jazz through these same terms, too. After all, jazz notes can be:

  • warped (alabeados/guerxes)

  • protective

  • wavy

  • compacted

  • curved

and so much more.


(The concert itself was great, by the way.)


There’s an old joke that when people don’t like jazz, it’s always user error.

In other words, if you don’t like jazz, you’re listening wrong.


I guess the corollary is:

If you don’t like Gaudí, you’re inhabiting the space wrong.


I’m sure that might sound a little elitist, and to be fair, jazz is intentionally pretty weird and different from most of the other music out there.


What’s jazz’s problem anyway?


Well in jazz, we’re playing around. We shift and destabilize more rote senses of rhythm, and start chasing complex dissonance without complete resolution. (Sometimes if we do complete something a bit too well, we just go back and warp it a bit more!)


In jazz, we’re learning how notes fight and play with one another.


You may never learn or grow to like jazz, and honestly that’s okay. There’s so much valuable stuff out there, no one can devote themselves to appreciating all of it.


But even if you don’t like jazz (or Gaudí!) you can still recognize and appreciate what makes it so great.



And once we learn to develop and sophisticate our vocabulary in one area, we might be surprised where else it turns out to be helpful. Learning to articulate our experiences with greater clarity and insight is basically the heart of what keeps drawing me to philosophy, art, comedy, even board games.


I assume it’s clear enough how philosophy and art and comedy can give us opportunities to express and explore our own experiences and ideas more vividly.


But board games?

Okay, a quick word on that.


Board game designers get to create their own laws of physics for how causation works in their game world. That incredibly open-ended power is what makes it so hard to explain rules well, let alone design them.


But they also have to simplify complex systems into playable mechanics. So what’s most important?!


Every rule expresses the essence of how the designer thinks things work.


Of course, the rules been altered for fantasy, for balance, for gameplay, for fun. But at their heart, rules express ideas distilled from how the designer understands our own world. The real challenge is making sure those ideas fit together to form an elegant system that’s more than the sum of its parts.


So what board game do you think feels the most:

  • warped (alabeados/guerxes)

  • protective

  • wavy

  • compacted

  • and/or curved?


Let me know in the comments! (My first thought: Galaxy Trucker?)

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