Dancing about architecture

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I've seen the "Writing about music is like dancing about architecture" quote variously attributed to Miles Davis, Elvis Costello, and Frank Zappa. Who said it?

ejad, Friday, 25 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

These guys seem to think it was Costello.

nickn, Friday, 25 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Oh well, just cut and paste.

http://home.pacifier.com/~ascott/they/tamildaa.htm

nickn, Friday, 25 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

It wasn't Frank Zappa ... I know that much.

Tadeusz Suchodolski, Friday, 25 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I'd always heard it attributed to Gertrude Stein, but my Bartlett's Familiar is back in California. Anybody got one handy?

John Darnielle, Saturday, 26 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Either Frank Zappa or Lester Bangs... don't remember too well..

by the way, the complete sentence, if I'm not mistaken, was "writing about music is like dancing about architecture"...

Simone, Saturday, 26 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

oh, you already knew that bit... sorry :-)

Simone, Saturday, 26 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Yeah - go to the site nickn lists. I don't think anyone here is magically going to solve this old chestnut.

N., Saturday, 26 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Bartleby doesn't cite the qoute - it does however have this one

http://www.bartleby.com/66/72/19372.html

That cite is a good basis for arguing that whoever came up with the quote IS WRONG. In fact its nearly a double negative that turns out to be correct again - but obviously not in the way the author intended: see the end of the Costello cite on that URL in the post above.

Firstly, dancing about architecture seems like a perfectly valid activity to me. Using the 4D (inc timeline) aspects of dance to reveal something interesting about human built 3D spaces seems like a great thing. Dance is mostly self expression, but it can also be a form of communication / spectator entertainment.

I can think of some buildings that would make the basis of a great dance. Even I have been known under the influence of several alcopops to 'do the actions' the Human Leagues 'Empire State Human' - (though it may be a bit of a stretch to claim this unedifying sight is a valid human artistic expression).

Secondly -even if you accept that the dancing stuff is futile- in what way is writing about music like dancing about architecture? It isn't, the abstract non verbal dance activity is a different form of self expression (and possibly communication). Writing has (or should have) a different balance between expression and communication.

So maybe writing about music IS like dancing about architecture in that is is one worthwhile and valid human art form being used to examine and reveal facets of another human art form that is (only) as valid.

Alexander Blair, Saturday, 26 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

This one has been argued so much in so many different forums that I don't think it's possible to get a definitive answer.

Sean Carruthers, Saturday, 26 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I hadn't checked that site recently - seems Costello is now quite clear front runner, unless he was just being a thief.

N., Saturday, 26 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

There was an NPR bit about this exact question, and I believe they attributed the quotation to Laurie Anderson, but she then turned around and attributed it to Steve Martin, I believe.

There's a website devoted to the question: http://home.pacifier.com/~ascott/they/tamildaa.htm

And here's the NPR snippet: http://www.npr.org/ramfiles/me/20000114.me.04.ram

Jay, Saturday, 26 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Disregard last post . . . clearly I'm not awake yet.

Jay, Saturday, 26 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Steve Martin = good call surely (it's his kind of a gag, where a musician saying it smacks of sour grapes). Zappa said that retarded thing abt rock critics which gets quoted somewhere in the world every other second. Costello *likes* some writers. Besides I first heard it said out loud by Bill Laswell when I interviewed him in 1985, and why would he be quoting Costello? It already sounded familiar, if that makes sense: ie i felt i was in the presence of a cliché... (this was some time before BL had transformed himself into the cliche, i might add)

mark s, Saturday, 26 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

My understanding is that whoever said it, it pre-dates the seventies for sure. I vaguely recall seeing it as a kid, usually credited to Thelonious Monk.

Kerry, Saturday, 26 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

FZ quote that mark s thinks is retarded: "Rock journalism is people who can't write interviewing people who can't talk in order to provide articles for people who can't read."

Nothing about music and furnitures. I also seem to remember the quote being attributed to David Byrne at some point.

Tadeusz Suchodolski, Saturday, 26 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Althusser.

Sterling Clover, Saturday, 26 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Aaagh. I wrote a thing about this (actually in response to something ILM's favourite journo Tom Cox (who I don't actually mind because he wrote the first fanzine I ever read, even if he does have pretty bad taste, but that's a tangent) wrote in the Guardian about bands not knowing their musical history) extolling the virtues of making music that sounded like buildings (or any other inanimate object really, just not like any other bands) which was based on this quote.

I don't know who said it, though, and I'd just like to point out that yes, I am experimenting with obscenely long sentences, thank you for asking I hope it doesn't irritate you as that would be awful.

emil.y, Sunday, 27 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Oh, and the reason why I don't post it for the joy of all perusal is because I wrote it about four years ago and I don't think it was very good.

emil.y, Sunday, 27 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

was reading a great piece in the guardian (flatmate's copy) this weekend about insomnia wherein the writer used all manner of parenthesis and commented wryly on her own lack of concentration and how her constant deployment of parenthesis was a typographical admission of her own state of constant digression.

stevie, Monday, 28 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

I'm pretty certain it was Costello who said this. Whether it's "true" is surely beside the point: it's an analogy and like all good analogies it holds good at some points and not others. I think it's main weakness is that it implies that writing about music is like using one art form to communicate truths about another; whereas writing language has a utilitarian function as well as an artistic one. A sentence like "The piece was scored for string quartet and had four movements" is not art but it does communicate information about music.

That said, Costello's comment contains a truth that resonates with a lot of people, so much so that it is part of the language of musicians outside the pop sphere who have never heard of Costello. It reminds us of how bad (and hubristic) most writing about music is.

Ironically one of the best single piece of music journalism I've read in recent years was by Costello himself, a short piece about Sinatra shortly after his death. Given his inability to make decent records these days maybe he should stick to dancing about architecture.

ArfArf, Monday, 28 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

Arf Arf,

I suspect that it has to pre-date Costello. I am going to check some sources later on.

DeRayMi, Monday, 28 January 2002 01:00 (fifteen years ago) Permalink

seven years pass...

do we know this yet

lol (roxymuzak), Sunday, 15 February 2009 03:38 (eight years ago) Permalink

Dunno! But I'd like to add Brian Eno to the long list of (mis)attributions.

Blimey G. Blamegarten (unregistered), Sunday, 15 February 2009 03:49 (eight years ago) Permalink

Honestly, the first person I heard it attributed to was Martin Mull.

Hideous Lump, Sunday, 15 February 2009 06:04 (eight years ago) Permalink

two months pass...

bump?

NI, Tuesday, 21 April 2009 19:19 (eight years ago) Permalink

When I went to the Cold War Modern exhibition at the V&A last year they had a film of Russian propaganda that involved lots of people waltzing inside a brand new towerblock while singing a song about how everyone could own their own kitchen. So that was dancing about architecture. It was awesome.

Sickamous Mouthall (Scik Mouthy), Tuesday, 21 April 2009 21:11 (eight years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

The answer is definitively Martin Mull. See OT: We Hear from Martin Mull.

mattdm, Sunday, 18 July 2010 12:08 (seven years ago) Permalink

Honestly, the first person I heard it attributed to was Martin Mull.

― Hideous Lump, Sunday, 15 February 2009 06:04 (1 year ago)

*Head swells, explodes*

Hideous Lump, Sunday, 18 July 2010 21:58 (seven years ago) Permalink

Damn, could have sworn it was Dr Johnson

Dr X O'Skeleton, Monday, 19 July 2010 15:42 (seven years ago) Permalink

dancing to architecture & morality

不合作的方式 (r1o natsume), Monday, 19 July 2010 16:32 (seven years ago) Permalink

Crazy! And good to definitively know this :)

Nate Carson, Monday, 19 July 2010 23:29 (seven years ago) Permalink

don't know if it's been mentioned but lots of 60s "postmodern" dance was site-specific, thus often very much about architecture...sorry declan!

iago g., Monday, 19 July 2010 23:34 (seven years ago) Permalink

Damn, could have sworn it was Dr Johnson

hahaha

could be a bad day for (Abbott), Monday, 19 July 2010 23:37 (seven years ago) Permalink


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