Moby: Dancing About Architecture

The Electronic Pop Polymath Curates an Imaginary World Tour of Buildings and Tracks

Moby combines beloved buildings with their perfect musical accompaniment in a selection illustrated by New Yorker, GQ, and Wallpaper contributor Adam Simpson. It’s the perfect time to talk to the DJ about structures: in a week in which Moby has released new album Innocents, he is currently in the middle of a residency at LA’s 1920s Fonda Theater, a venue featured on his Los Angeles architecture blog. London-based artist Simpson has imbued today's pictures with a sense of each corresponding track, adding a mysterious figure to add scale and a narrative. “It could be Moby, or it could be us being taken on a journey by Moby,” he says. It creates a solitary feel that matches Moby’s idea for this collaboration: “I have realised in hindsight,” says the star, “that I was imagining every building or location I picked, completely devoid of people.”

1. La Grande Arche De La Défense, Paris and “Tal Coat” by Brian Eno
The structure feels like a mid-1980s version of the future. It couldn't be more different to the old, beautiful, stately Paris: weird and modern and architecturally challenging. The first time I went to the city was in 1987. I stumbled into a gallery and there was a show of Pierre Tal Coat’s work, and then I saw that Brian Eno had this song named after him. It’s a piece of music that would make perfect sense on a rainy Tuesday at La Grande Arche.

2. Frank Lloyd Wright’s Ennis House, Los Angeles and “Strings of Life” by Derrick May

It’s the weirdest house I’ve ever seen in my life, like a giant Aztec space ship. From the outside you can’t really see that it has any windows, you just wonder how anyone can live there. Modern architecture became about an absolute lack of ornamentation with Bauhaus, but this is solely against that. It has the same otherworldly quality I hear in this techno anthem from Derrick May, and on an aesthetic level they remind me of each other.

3. Mt. Wilson Observatory, Los Angeles and “God Moving Over the Face of the Waters” by Moby

This song was inspired by a vision I had about the world before there were land masses or life. Imagining the vastness and the emptiness and the strange sense of potential. There’s something about Mt. Wilson that has a similar, wonderful quality about it. Almost no one ever goes up there and it has this unobstructed view that feels like you're looking at the entire world.

4. Kölner Dom, Cologne and “Station to Station” by David Bowie

The first time I saw the Dom, it had about 500 years of accumulated dirt on it. Just the grimiest thing; this enormous hulking cathedral in the middle of a sprawl of much smaller buildings. When I was in Germany I had really bad insomnia, and wandered around it at night, when the junkies hung out. Somehow “Station to Station,” from my favorite Bowie album of the same name, seemed like the perfect song to pair it with.

5. St. Louis Gateway Arch and “Decline of the West” by British Electronic Foundation 
Eero Saarinen is my favorite architect of the 20th century, and one of the most iconic things he designed and built was the St. Louis Gateway Arch, known as ‘The Gateway to the West.’ It almost looks like a strange alien craft that crashed there, and this is just a part of it sticking out of the earth. And this is a beautifully evocative piece of music from 1980 or 81, a period of electronic experimentation that made me the musician that I became.

6. The Manhattan Bridge, New York City and “Retrograde” by James Blake
I don’t think of the Manhattan Bridge filled with cars and tourists, but in the middle of winter when it’s raining and empty. James Blake makes electronic music that is delicate and emotional. I first heard “Retrograde” in LA in bright sunshine, but I could imagine being by myself underneath the Manhattan Bridge with the song as the perfect accompaniment.

7. Griffith Observatory, Los Angeles and “Clair de Lune” by Claude Debussy
There is an unconventional beauty to Debussy and “Clair de Lune” is romantic and disconcerting at the same time. The title means “moonlight” in French; it is why I paired it with Griffith Park, which I can see out of my window. LA is the only major city in the world where its iconic building is an observatory where people go to look at outer space. It somehow seems strangely representative of the sort of naïve, dysfunctional ethos of Los Angeles.

8. Washington Square Arch, New York City and “I Feel Love” by Donna Summer

I don’t drink now, but when I lived in New York I spent most of my time staying out all night. Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love” is one of the most perfect songs to listen to at 4am when you’re out of your head, and Washington Square Park is a place I always used to encounter in those days. In the 1920s, Marcel Duchamp and some of the other surrealists found a door into the arch and broke in. They went to the top, got really drunk and then at dawn, very solemnly proclaimed Manhattan to be its own country.

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  • ON REPLAY
    ON REPLAY

    Richard Meier x Massimo Vignelli

    On the Edge of Modernism With the Master Architect and the Genius Designer

    Illustrious modernist Richard Meier and multi-disciplinary creator Massimo Vignelli reflect on their respective crafts, city life, and enduring friendship in this mesmeric film by Johnnie Shand Kydd. Shot at the minimalist offices of Richard Meier & Partners on 10th Avenue and West 36th Street, the two powerhouses discuss their collaboration on the firm’s forthcoming monograph, Richard Meier, Architect Volume 6, chronicling the stark, white, rationalist buildings that define the firm’s aesthetic. The Pritzker Prize laureate's most notable projects include the Getty Center in L.A., the Barcelona Museum of Contemporary Art, and more recently, the two glass-and-steel towers on Perry Street in New York’s West Village that Martha Stewart, Ian Schrager, Calvin Klein, and Nicole Kidman have all called home. Vignelli, too, has left a significant mark on Manhattan, having famously designed the New York subway map and signage, in addition to working on everything from packaging and furniture design to corporate identities for clients like BMW, Barney’s, Xerox and American Airlines. “Architects need to have a certain arrogance, a sense of self-belief,” posits Shand Kydd. “A designer, however, has to be more collaborative. Consequently, Meier and Vignelli have very different natures, but like all very talented people, they both look forward and not back.” Here Meier nonetheless looks to his present city, and beyond, to reveal his select few architectural necessities.

    RICHARD MEIER’S TOP FIVES

    Favorite buildings around the world:
    Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp
    Le Thoronet Abbey in Provence
    Ryōan-ji in Kyoto
    Fatehpur Sikri in Agra
    The Guggenheim Museum in New York City

    Favorite spaces in New York:
    The plaza at the Seagram Building
    The Metropolitan Museum of Art
    Central Park
    The Guggenheim Museum
    My apartment

    Things every architect should own:
    A good supply of General’s Draughting Pencils
    A Keuffel & Esser ruler
    A 9 - 8 1/2 ft long work table
    A white shirt and a black suit
    A black Porsche 911

    (Read More)
  • MOST SHARED IN MUSIC
    MOST SHARED IN MUSIC

    R.E.M.: Discoverer

    Michael Stipe and His Sister Lynda On Their Cinematic Collaboration For Collapse Into Now

    Directed by Michael Stipe and his sister Lynda, today's premiere of the music video for R.E.M.’s "Discoverer" accompanies the first track off the group's 15th studio album, Collapse Into Now. Alongside the record, which has been hailed as their best in a decade, the band’s cerebral frontman commissioned a film for each of the 12 tracks from the likes of James Franco, Sam Taylor-Wood, Sophie Calle, and Albert Maysles. Stipe opted to direct "Discoverer" himself, citing a personal attachment to the tune, which posits New York as his muse. "It's autobiographic," he says. "I rarely insert myself this directly into a song." Lynda's inventive use of the computer program AutoCAD (a tool for architectural layouts) for projections during live performances with her experimental band, Flash to Bang Time, served as a jumping off point. "It's like the Velvet Underground circa 1969, with the Exploding Plastic Inevitable, when they were working alongside Andy Warhol in the Factory,” Stipe says of the color-drenched effect. NOWNESS asked the siblings to elaborate.

    Michael: AutoCAD is an incredibly dry application used by architects to explain their ideas. We completely bastardized the program and its actual use. The rawness of the piece comes across because we're not polishing or sanding the edges of it. It's kind of unformed on the screen. Right, Lynda? 

    Lynda: Exactly. People usually don't play with it. You'd given me a little bit of direction on what the song was about. I built a miniature Houston Street, adding in various architectural elements that stand for New York, and added some lyrics and stuff. 

    Michael: It's a little bit like if you're standing on a beautiful day, looking at the sky, with a meteorologist, they'll say, “That's a nebulous cumulus and it means that it's going to rain.” And you look at it and you say, "Oh I saw a snail riding a bicycle." We're very aware as brother and sister, and as artists, of each other's aesthetic. And yet, our aesthetics are very different. I wanted Lynda to interpret what I was reaching for, and throw it back at me, so it was like this game of badminton, and what we wound up with was this distillation of our two aesthetics. 

    Lynda: It definitely puts across that “heart palpitating, too much caffeine,” kind of exciting discovery feeling, which was a real surprise to me, and I loved it. 

    Michael: The song is exploring this epiphanal moment of discovery, in the early 80s when I realized that New York had something to offer me that was so powerful and so profound that I could not turn my back on it. That it was going to be a part of me forever—my second home. It's my Valentine to New York from almost 30 years ago. Athens, Georgia [where Lynda is based], is my other home. The two balance me quite well. By the way, how's Bug [Lynda's dog, who recently had surgery]? 

    Lynda: He's healing. He's really docile... We call him a Buddhist pitbull.  

    Michael: I would go so far as to say he's Daoist. So, you recreated Houston Street with exactly the freneticism I imagined for the piece, and that sense of smallness that you get in the city. But also that surging triumphant feeling of, "This city is here to support and help me become whatever I want to become." It's like being in your early 20s. You were in New York in the early 80s with your band and I was here with my band. The first time I ever went to CBGB was to see you perform. The period of time that we're talking about in the song is somewhere in the early 80s––sometime between '81 and '85, I'm guessing.  

    Lynda: It brings up all kinds of memories for me. I remember a $2.50 a day per diem in New York, when I still smoked. 

    Michael: Yeah! 

    Lynda: And it was like, okay: pizza or cigarettes? 

    Michael: I remember when we lived in Times Square, just going and buying the biggest, cheapest knish that I could and that was my meal for the day. Everything else was basically depending on the kindness of strangers. And hoping someone would buy me a beer if I went to a bar. 


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