Water World

Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

Photo by Bebe Jacobs.

When the rain is coming down during winter in L.A. (like it is today, finally!), the Skirball takes on my favorite look: wet. Much has been made of Moshe Safdie’s signature materials—glass, steel, and water—and how they reflect the sun, sky, and mountains. [To learn more about Safdie’s design aesthetic, visit Global Citizen: The Architecture of Moshe Safdie.] Those of us who live/work in one of his environments know the special secrets of how the concrete walls look wet, the patterns of raindrops on the pond, the sound of a storm against the glass, and the occasional leaf floating in a puddle.

It is with these moments in mind that I decided to create a spotify playlist—a soundtrack, if you will, for those stormy days, when the archaeology dig is closed and the buildings’ exteriors take on a mellowed hue. I invite you to pick up an umbrella and admire the Skirball in the rain with your headphones tuned to this playlist.

The Taper Courtyard.

The Taper Courtyard.

“Hljómalind” by Sigur Rós from Hvarf/Heim
The organ at the beginning always reminds me of a church organ, but the song is anything but a hymn. It’s written in Hopelandic, the imaginary Icelandic-like language the band has invented to focus their listeners on sounds rather than words, I frequently think that Jónsi is singing “you saw the light” and “you shine on us.” At the same time, for me the nonsense syllables call to mind the interplay of wet flagstone and sky in the Taper Courtyard. The final moments of the song remind me of a toy piano. Follow along with the Hopelandic lyrics, here.

“Eple” by Röyksopp from Melody A.M. (but I most prefer the Black Strobe remix off their Eple 12″ EP)
In Beaux Art architecture, in order to create a successful fountain, one needed to ensure that anyone strolling by would hear the sound of water on water, water on stone, and water on metal. Certainly on a rainy day one can hear that all of that at the Skirball. “Eple” seems to reflect the romance of falling water in at least all three of those states, plus the drama of grey skies. I think here at the base of the mountains and Mulholland Drive we benefit from a very special climate. If you’ve ever watched the clouds roll into the mountains here and become fog, you know what I am talking about. See the Röyksopp music video, here.

“Tinseltown in the Rain” by The Blue Nile
The classic but defunct indie band The Blue Nile knew a thing or two about rain: their home base was Glasgow, Scotland, a city that receives nearly fifty inches annually. While their song is not about Los Angeles but the impermanence of love, I love comparing the idea of the wet Victorian buildings (ubiquitous in Glasgow) to the Skirball’s rain-streaked modern architecture. Plus the song showcases Paul Buchanan’s plaintive voice to brilliant effect. I often sing the song to myself while I walk out the Skirball’s front door towards a rainy Sepulveda Blvd. The repetition of lyrics is a nice accompaniment to watching windshield wipers of cars stopped at the traffic light. Watch it performed live, hereSkirball_Rainy Day_Architecture

“Thursday Afternoon” by Brian Eno
Brian Eno’s hour-plus long song is the ultimate expression of the harmony of nature, especially nature in the rain. Though Eno has been presented at the Skirball only once (in conversation with another great innovator, Danny Hillis), long after he composed this Satie-like masterpiece, Eno seems to have perfectly captured our campus in the rain. There is a certain harmonic that reverberates throughout the piece and to me acts as a constructed counterpoint against which we hear the tinkling of piano and higher notes, much the way Safdie’s buildings become a frame for appreciating nature. To me nothing captures the sight and the sound of water on Japanese maple—both in the Guerin Pavilion’s gardens and in the lesser known garden behind the Resource Center—quite like this piece. Listen as it is set to dramatic footage on youtube, here.

Japanese maple leaf.

Japanese maple leaf.

“It’s Gonna Rain” by Steve Reich
Steve Reich is one of the most famous composers of twentieth-century minimalism. In this early masterwork, Reich finds musicality and rhythms in the short phrase “It’s gonna rain!” which he composes, transposes, deconstructs, and reconstructs. An extremely spiritual Jewish composer, Reich takes a snippet of a hellfire sermon from an evangelical preacher and explodes it into an unexpectedly musical exegesis reaching beyond biblical flood into a deeply transformative experience. I enjoy the playful but directed imagination that it took to create this work and I often find myself listening to it on the wet garden paths around campus or while musing at how the amphitheater soaks in moisture. Listen to Part I, here.

Listen to my full playlist on the Skirball’s spotify:

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