John Pawson's Muse Music
The acclaimed minimalist architect on the music that gets him in a creative mood
We didn't expect a minimalist to choose 12 - rather than the customary 10 - songs for his Phaidon Muse Music playlist but as it's John Pawson, one of our favourite architects, making the choice we're more than happy for an extended insight into the music that inspires his life and creations. Pawson creates buildings that possess a simple beauty. He designs to a principle of rigorous reduction, and has become known for his minimalist aesthetic. Born in Yorkshire, he studied at the Architectural Association in London where he now lives. During his twenties, Pawson also studied with the Japanese architect Shiro Kuramata who was to prove a strong influence in the path his architecture would take. Some of his more recent projects include the Calvin Klein store in New York, the Cathay Pacific lounges at Sir Norman Foster's Hong Kong airport and a monastery for the monks of the Cistercian Monastery of Our Lady of Nový Dvůr in the Czech Republic. He recently unveiled his plans for the new Design Museum in London.
Pawson is rarely without his digital camera which he uses to record patterns, details, textures and spatial arrangements in the world around him that might inform his work. These snapshots of landscapes, buildings and objects have come to form a monumental visual diary_ A Visual Inventory._ Pawson has annotated each of the 272 photographs with explanations as to why he captured that particular image, allowing us to see the world through his eyes. You can listen to the music that has inspired him in his life and in his career now on Spotify and iTunes but before you do, read what he has to say about it.
"In a way, my influences are eclectic. Music doesn’t make me want to go and design a house, in a way it’s a more physical pleasure. It’s maybe a break for me or a tunnel to something else. I’ve never had a lot of music in the office. To me music is to be listened to and art is to be looked at. I never understood that thing of using art as decoration. It has to mean something to me otherwise I wouldn’t have it. And I can’t work with music. I find it too stimulating in a way. There are moments when I just want to put something on loud and then I soon want to turn it off. I actually love silence. I have a highly tuned ear for mechanical noises. I built my house to be quiet. I put the boiler in the garden, and the fridge in a cupboard. I can always find noise. People say there’s nothing there and then I find a phone or a charger plugged in that no one else can hear. I lie in bed listening. I actually love power cuts. Where we live in Notting Hill, the only sound we get is the marine hum of the Westway, it sounds the same as being near the ocean. I actually find that irritating! Growing up there was always music at home. Mum played the piano (she was into Bartok) and my cousin trained as an opera singer so we used to have people over. He’d bring along people like (opera singer) Elizabeth Harwood. I think the first record I ever bought was Diana by Paul Anka. I spent a week in Sydney with Liza Minelli when she was 21 - that was thrilling to hear someone belt out those numbers, it was before she made Cabaret. I grew up in the Sixties. Then the Beatles arrived and everything changed. I get to hear some music now through my son Caius, who has a label called Young Turks and manages The XX."
__The Rolling Stones _(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction / I’m Alright - ___ I was by a pool in Sitges, Spain, when I first heard this on a transistor radio. In those days, there were no iPods, no Sky+ or going back to hear it however many times you wanted to, and certainly no internet to look it up. And, my god, I heard this riff by Keith Richards and it was like a drug. I wanted to take it out of the radio! I listened to Radio Luxembourg for literally five weekends in a row, hoping to hear this bloody thing again. Then, I was in Japan in the early 70's and missing home a bit. A live performance of _I'm Alright _came on the radio. I didn’t play air guitar but I might have raised imaginary maraccas while shuffling along the floor. It was that similar feeling of excitement but this time, tinged with nostalgia . It’s like having a sip of Coca-Cola for the first time, you never get back that first taste but because it was such a part of your childhood, because it’s so connected to events, it remains a trigger forever.
__Wagner _Siegfried Idyll - ___ I love Wagner. He wrote this piece for his wife’s birthday. He wrote it for a small orchestra then gathered them together at the bottom of the staircase in the morning and she woke up to the sound of it being played. I just love the idea of Wagner conjuring up ‘something for the wife’. It must be the best birthday present that someone has ever, ever, had.
John Coltrane In A Sentimental Mood - There was a period when I’d be trying to keep up with my friends at school. I was always attracted to people who were intelligent or intellectual, people who maybe had something that I didn’t have. It may sound pretentious but at 16 my friends were quite well up in jazz. Then, when I was in Paris I had a girlfriend who was older than me. One night everyone who was anyone in jazz seemed to be playing. I went to about three jazz clubs in one night and saw probably six legends - John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins and, I think, Thelonius Monk were among them. I can appreciate the “sheets of noise” Coltrane but I prefer him when he’s quieter, as he is on this song. This, for me, creates an equally inventive atmosphere. It’s cool quiet and reflective.
__The Who _My Generation - ___ I was at school, lived in Yorkshire, and the album this is on had just come out and nobody had heard it yet. I was about 16 and deejaying at a party and all I wanted to do was play this album really, really loud, over and over again and not really bother with any other music. Obviously I couldn’t, so the nicest bit of the party was before people actually came when I could blast this over and over again!
__Beethoven _Sonata no. 31 in A Flat Major, Alfred Brendel - ___ It’s very gentle and short and beautiful. It’s so simple, it’s like … unplugged. And so modern too. And to think that he composed it when he was deaf, that he could hear this in his head. It’s wonderful to have the ultimate song on any playlist. This is probably it.
__Jack Peñate _Tonight’s Today - ___ We’ve been on holiday with Jack and he’s a charismatic character. This is pretty haunting. He’s a balladeer with a wonderful voice. His grandfather was Mervyn Peake, who wrote Gormenghast. I saw him perform Purple Rain at my son’s wedding. Prince is obviously one of the best performers there is but Jack…I hadn’t had a drink and he was brilliant! There are demos of his new single No One Lied, online at the moment. Try and find it.
David Bowie Helden - When you see the Thin White Duke walk out on to the stage and hear that voice it’s always a real moment. For some reason, I’ve always preferred the German Helden to the English Heroes. Around this time he was apparently surviving on a diet of milk, German sausage and cocaine. Catherine, my wife, is obsessed by him. One time she was getting a small aeroplane out of Mustique and who was opposite her but David Bowie. Their knees were knocking but she couldn’t bring herself to talk to him.
It’s just one of those things I might play in the office in the middle of the afternoon. At one point I have played songs for everybody. For Shingo I played I Think I’m Turning Japanese, for a girl called Joy I played Ode To Joy. When I think people aren’t working I play Holiday by the Bee Gees!
John Lennon How? - I do like Lennon, I actually think he’s extraordinary. I remember when he died I went into three months of mini depression. My girlfriend thought I was mad! He was such a brilliant writer. This was inspired by the primal scream therapy he was going through at the time. I saw the Beatles twice - once in Torquay when they’d just released She Loves You, and then again in Bradford. I’d become friends with Billy J Kramer and his band were touring with The Beatles and they invited me backstage but I couldn’t get past the barrier of fans. Later I stood next to Lennon in an art gallery and stupidly didn’t say anything.
__America I Need You/ A Horse With No Name - Gerry Beckley wrote these lyrics: ‘I need you like the flower needs the rain,’ when he was just 16. America were huge in the early Seventies. Most people remember them for A Horse With No Name, which Dewey Bunnell wrote and which I also like. I’ve Been Through the Desert on a Horse With No Name. I just love deserts. When I go on holiday it’s always to deserts: the Mojave, the Atacama. It’s the silence and the nothingness. It’s beautiful and there’s usually no architecture so it’s a real holiday! We went to the Karoo Desert in South Africa on the way to Namibia. You just go on and on, further and further, then stop the car, turn the engine off. You can hear every gurgle in your body.
__The XX _Islands - ___ It is quite minimal in a certain way and it just puts you somewhere else and transports you. For me the music of The XX is a bit like film. When you first become interested in it you can appreciate a classic like say Casablanca, but when something like Apocalypse Now comes along you realise you’re into a whole new world. The XX are like that.
__Holy Fuck _Red Lights - ___ Pretty extraordinary instrumental electronic music, very modernist. They’re charming middle class boys but they have this name! Some of the music, not all of it, is quite brutal. But it is visceral and raw and it gets to you. I saw them live recently. Again it’s something very new, not something you can immediately recognise.
__Buddy Holly/Florence And The Machine/The Rolling Stones/ Bo Diddley _Not Fade Away - ___ Not Fade Away is just an idea. People say how do you design? What’s the process? I think it’s straightforward but I cannot understand composing music. In the end it comes down to the same thing. I love this song in all its versions, the Stones or by Florence from Florence And The Machine or Bo Diddley. It’s very straight talking with a great jittery rhythm.
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