Petrified Music: The Sound of the Desert and Architecture

Petrified Music: The Sound of the Desert and Architecture

Writing about music is like dancing about architecture, said a famous phrase attributed to Frank Zappa and Elvis Costello. If the relationship between the songs and the buildings in which we move may seem distant, the one between music and the desert is much more solid, through the imagery built up over dozens of albums. Desert, architecture and music are the three elements of the documentary “Ask the sand” by Vittorio Bongiorno: presented at various festivals over the last year, it will arrive on Sky Arte starting from next April 27th.
The film tells of a journey in the Arizona desert towards Arcosanti, an experimental city designed and built by the Italian architect Paolo Soleri, who had also worked with Frank Lloyd Wright.

A laboratory-place to experiment with the fusion between buildings and nature, to make the relationship between man and the environment more harmonious: built in the 1970s, it anticipated ideas that are now central to urban development, such as that of sustainability which also ended up inspiring Tatooine , the planet from which the story of “Star Wars” begins.

Cinema, architecture and Calexico

The role of music is central to the story of the film: The film has music by Calexico, John Convertino and Joachim Cooder: “The link between music and architecture is much deeper than people think”, explains Bongiorno to Rockol. “There are certain places where we don't go because the music sounds bad and others where we like to be because the architecture allows the music to completely envelop us. Goethe defined architecture as 'petrified music'.
In the film the sound of the desert is represented above all by the Calexicos, who were born and raised in those lands of Arizona: “We are born with this innate desire to travel and leave the house to see the world. “Ask The Sand” illuminates that spirit of adventure and curiosity that ultimately brings us back to the common thread that we are all connected,” Joey Burns tells Rockol.

“A film without music is like a film without story, it is what binds the scenes as well as what binds people”, it is said at a certain point in the film: My two great teachers are David Lynch and Wim Wenders.

In “Paris, Texas”, there is the desert, a father and a son, and Ry Cooder's guitar: in the film there is the music of Joachim Cooder, son of Ray, who Bongiorno met on another trip in the desert: “I once met Ry Cooder by chance at Pappy & Harriet's, a rancho in the Joshua Tree desert: he was playing with his son Joachim's band and, absurd as it may seem, I was the only one who noticed busy eating burritos and guzzling beer and he was there with his Stratocaster and Vans and that unmistakable guitar sound: the sound of the desert”.

A road movie

“Ask the sand” is a road movie that talks not only about architecture, but also about the relationship between generations, a father who is a director and musician (Bongiorno himself) and his son, who studies architecture. “I fell in love with the writers and artists who chose the “infinite possibilities” of the desert to imagine an escape from wild urbanization. Paolo Soleri wrote a lot and drew even more, both about life in the desert and, late in life, in space. But in 2013 Soleri died, at over 90, and I missed the chance to meet him while crossing Arizona. When my son turned 18 it seemed like a great gift to give him – a trip into the desert in search of utopia.”

“Music can be that bridge that helps show more similarities in our world and between us,” explains Joey Burns of Calexico.

“Both Joey and John Convertino are sensitive to both cinema and architecture, and when I sent them a rough edit with some of their songs they accepted without placing any limits,” explains Bongiorno. Then there are some synchronicities that give you chills: in the song “Everyone Sleeps In The Light” Cooder sings “Ask the sun painted red too soon I love you now”. It seems like it was made on purpose but he composed it without knowing about my film nor I about his music. And then Joey Burns and John Convertino played a spine-tingling acoustic version of “Crystal Frontier” at Taliesin West, Frank Lloyd Wright's architecture school in Phoenix, Arizona, the place from which Paolo Soleri was kicked out by his teacher Wright . I always repeat it: life is a continuous surprise, all you need to do is blow on the piles of sand that cover the red threads that bind us all.”