Construction and Deconstruction

Michael Pollan Pulseoptional While I have been fairly diligent about maintaining my construction blog, I have neglected to blog about much else since January, which could mislead the reader into believing either that nothing else of interest is happening, or, worse, that nothing else has been interesting me, both of which are false.  But this past week, two creative works—one a book and the other a CD—were so interesting that I was compelled to respond to both in manifold ways.

Now, for the blog, how to begin?

Perhaps the best way to begin is with the most obvious segue, construction.  I was not the first, nor do I think I will be the last to have the urge to create a place of my own.  Michael Pollan did just that for himself in the mid-1990s and wrote a book by the self-same title:

A Place of My Own (Cover) In that work, Pollan traces the journey from unbounded abstract desires of a mini mid-life crisis to a concrete (but mostly wood) result of scarcely 125 sq ft.  The journey entails more than just the process of imagining the possibilities of the space, more than discovering the proper location of the space, more than conceiving and designing the space in a fixed context, more than the process of building the space with real tools and materials, but a quest to understand the full philosophical, historical, cultural, and ineluctable nature of the constructed environment.

And Pollan’s genius (which goes well beyond mere facility with words) are the lengths and the depths he will go to chase down every last aspect and connection his subject presents.  It is a 300 page book about building a 125 sq ft house, after all, and it lists nearly a hundred other resources in its bibliography.

It is not long into the journey before Pollan uncovers one of the great ironies of modern architecture.  He laments “I’d come to building looking for ways to get past words, only to learn from an influential contemporary architect that architecture was really just another form of writing.”  He goes on to talk about Peter Eisenman, “[an architect who] argued that architecture was not really so much about the articulation of space, as the modernists had believed, but about communication by means of signs, or symbols.  Buildings consitutted a form of media; they were cultural texts to be read.”

Construction, meet Deconstruction.

Reading about Pollan’s journey reminded me of my own journey, and I was very sympathetic to virtually every aspect of both his quest and to his many handicaps.  Although I am now only halfway through my project (God, let me be halfway through!), I can say for certain that I have suffered many of the doubts and disappointments that are forced by choice in a world of physical reality.  And I can say fairly certainly that while his project and mine are radically different in virtually every specific detail, the two projects could not be more connected in terms of the ideal of creating an environment and an experience that were perfectly true to one another, with form and function as one.

And yet, the very act of occupation sets into motion a kind of deconstructive process, as the work of the architect responds to the life of the client and the facts of nature.  Pollan writes: “For the contemproary architect, trained as he is to think of himself as a species of modern artist, surrendering control of his creation is never easy, no matter what he professes to believe about the importance of collaboration.”  Numerous times he makes reference to the idea that in that frame of reference, the house is never more perfect than the day before the client occupies it.  And thus, I am fated to change sides at some point, from the constructionist to the deconstructionist, as I prepare myself to occupy the space…

Which brings us to Pulsoptional.  One member of this “band of composers” reached out to me as a prospective artist interested in the creative possibilities of The Miraverse.  I saw that they had some CDs for sale, and since CDBaby makes it so damn easy to buy from them, I bought their self-titled work, Pulsoptional.  I became quite taken by one track, “I Heart Rosa Luxemburg…” and after being seduced by its deconstructive nature, I sought more information through Google, which led me to composer Marc Faris’s extended liner notes and to a hour-long radio show, New Sounds, that plays the song in its entirety after a relatively short and well-framed introduction.

Much is explained by the full title of the work, which is “I Heart Rosa Luxemburg; Or, Why Embracing Socialism Should Result in the Irrevocable, Systematic Rejection of the Major Principles of the EuroAmerican Art Music Tradition (But Seldom Does).”  Indeed, that title, and the composition itself in the way that melody, meter, and instrumentation itself undergoes successive deconstruction, appears to be a validation of my equally strong deconstructionist tendencies, as illustrated by the paper I submitted last year to Ars Electronica.

For me, the great unresolved challenge of The Miraverse is how to honor the integrity of the artist’s intention without compromising the potential experience of the audience (which, because of the Internet, could be the entire world, now and forever into the future).  95% of the artists I talk with seem to side with the architect who believes the house is most perfect the day before the client moves in, which is to say that only 5% are happy to provide their audiences with the means (technical and legal) to “move in” and make the original work something that suits them and their life. This is a 500% improvement from two years ago, when the numbers were more like 99% to 1%.  But still, how is it possible to simultaneously serve the conflicting goals of construction and deconstruction in the musical context?

This brings me back to the triumph of Michael Pollan’s exercise, which provided the sense of both freedom and enclosure, the opportunity of both prospect and refuge. Is it possible that when a musical expression can be freely interpreted and reinterpreted by the audience, that we gain the equivalent of “light from two sides” that makes a room so inviting?  Could it be that only when we have the freedom to deconstruct can we appreciate fully what is constructed for us, by us, and of us?

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