“A grand composition”: “Frozen Music” by photographer Alan Sislen


A dramatic cityscape or unique building is often a sight to behold, but with his new solo show, Alan Sislen hopes to evoke another sense entirely. In “Frozen Music,” which opens at the Torpedo Factory this week in Multiple Exposures Gallery, the photographer brings out the harmonies and tones of architecture, a music we can discern even as it stands silent before us.

“Some of the photographs mimic the ebb and flow of architecture as if it were a musical composition,” Sislen says, “while others show the interplay of many architects’ creations and how they come together to form a grand composition.”

Sislen, who took up clarinet and saxophone when he was nine years old and played in bands in high school and college, has long sensed a link between music and photography, but only recently did he begin to explore the relationship of architecture to both of these arts. The connection came naturally, but only after Sislen decided to look more closely at buildings rather than focus on natural landscapes, his usual subject.


“As I began printing photographs and placing them in groupings, I kept ‘seeing’ music in the photographs,” he explains. “There was a rhythm, a repetition of tonalities and shapes, and even the sense of a musical staff and measures. I was intrigued, began doing some research, and found one reference after another to the relationship between these two art forms. That’s when I found the Goethe quote, ‘Music is liquid architecture and architecture is frozen music.’ I decided that what had started out as a project to do something different would become its own exhibit.”

“Frozen Music” revolves around three series of photographs, with the first focusing on Frank Gehry’s Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles. “In some cases these are flowing, abstract, and sensual,” Sislen says, “and, interestingly, show an architectural structure with the sole purpose of housing music within.” A second group studies the geometry of buildings in Boston and New York City, with an emphasis on the repetition of lines, shape, tone, texture, and rhythm, while a third group makes the viewer conscious of context by looking skyward at buildings that soar into the clouds—a perspective that Sislen finds illuminating.


“What I began to see in the scenes I was photographing was not just the beauty of the individual structure, but how a group of buildings designed by very different architects often blended together to create an overall beauty beyond that of any one building,” he says, glad to have captured that emotional and imaginative music in photography. “The symphony is far more grand than the individual notes on the score.” 

See “Frozen Music” at the Torpedo Factory at Multiple Exposures Gallery, studio 312, from June 24 through August 3, 2014, with an opening reception on Sunday, June 29, 2014, from 2 to 4 p.m. Explore more of Alan Sislen’s work at his website, alansislenphotography.com.

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