Architect Michael Maltzan has designed prestigious museums, luxurious private residences and social housing in Downtown LA. Music has been a factor in his life since he first started to discover architecture and he ruminates on the connection between the two art forms while sharing songs from Big Star, Talking Heads and more.
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1. The Bad Plus - Long Distance Runaround
2. Talking Heads - The Big Country
3. Big Star - The Ballad Of El Goodo
4. PJ Harvey - We Float
5. Glen Campbell - There's No Me Without You
AV: Hi I'm Anthony Valadez and I'm here with Architect Michael Maltzan. He's designed prestigious museums and luxurious private residences, but it's his inspired work on social housing in downtown LA, the Inner City Arts Building, and on Skid Row that has sealed his reputation as an architect with a social vision. Today we're going to talk about songs he selected that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ project. Michael, how are you?
MM: I'm good, thank you.
AV: So, what did you bring for us today?
MM: The first song that I brought is actually a Yes song, “Long Distance Runaround”. It's a kind of music, having grown up in the suburbs, that I was really unfamiliar with. I had grown up listening to mostly AM pop on my parent's radios and this was a type of music that was much more complex. It was infused with, in a lot of ways, with jazz, and it was the perfect kind of music for me as I was starting to discover architecture and certainly discovering the city. This particular version, The Bad Plus version with Wendy Lewis, is interesting because this song was always one of the Yes songs that I didn't like that much. I was always trying to figure this song out and this more recent version, when I first heard it, it was as if all of a sudden that song completely made sense to me.
Song: The Bad Plus (with Wendy Lewis) – “Long Distance Runaround”
AV: That was the Bad Plus with Wendy Lewis doing “The Long Distance Runaround” selected by Michael Maltzan as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. What else do you have for us?
MM: The second song is The Big Country by The Talking Heads. This is a song that came at a time when I had started much more intense involvement with architecture at Rhode Island School of Design in Providence. It was like being dropped into a completely different culture, a place that, in a way, I had always dreamed about. An absolutely immersive creative culture. And often at night when we would all go to visit each other at each other's studios to see what we were making and what people where thinking, The Talking Heads were always playing. Many of them were from that school. They seemed like ours and those songs formed the backdrop for that culture certainly at that time. I like this song because it also seemed like it was about searching for what was relevant or what was authentic or what was real in architecture.
Song: The Talking Heads – “The Big Country”
AV: I was listening to the lyrics and it talks about various social classes, you know "I don't want to live there" "I'm happy here, I don't want to eat the way they do." Did you get anything out of those lyrics?
MM: Those lyrics meant a lot to me because, if nothing else, they were imploring you to try to do something that was deeply authentic, that was really your own, that really mattered. And coming at that time, that was exactly what I was looking for. I didn't exactly know how to express it in architecture yet, but in those songs, certainly in this song, there was some clue about what that meant to live that kind of life
AV: That was The Talking Heads with “The Big Country” selected by architect Michael Maltzan as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. So what's next for us?
MM: This next song, “Ballad of El Goodo” by Big Star is also very much for me about Alex Chilton who was a performer and a songwriter that I spent a lot of time listening to especially because, by this point, I had grown to feel a kind of claustrophobia on the East Coast, a kind of creative claustrophobia. It just felt like you knew exactly what your future was going to be like and your future in architecture seemed in a particularly stale place. And I was really looking for a new city and New Orleans was a place that a couple of friends of mine were living and teaching and, to me, New Orleans seemed like the most exotic city on the planet. And in many ways it still does for me. I spent a bunch of time there but there was one summer in particular that I went supposedly to teach at Tulane, it ended up that there weren't any jobs and I spent the rest of the summer just sitting by the Mississippi trying to draw it and to reduce what I was drawing to something that seemed really essential. It was probably the main thing that came out of that summer besides going to see a lot of music at night and seeing Alex Chilton a number of times, playing for long, long, long sets.
AV: So I'm assuming this song was in your headphones when you were sitting alongside the Mississippi?
MM: Constantly Maybe not in my headphones, but it was very much in my head.
Song: Big Star -- The Ballad of El Goodo
AV: That was Big Star with “The Ballad of El Goodo” selected by Michael Maltzan as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. What's next for us, Michael?
MM: The next song is PJ Harvey, “We Float”. This is a song that came at a time in Los Angeles, this was the end of 2001 beginning of 2002, it was a very complex time for a lot of people. You got the sense that the city as an animal was in a state of real anxiety. It was just scared and fearful. Nobody really knew what was next and every song on this album somehow seemed to speak to that. It was like a long narrative that gave you the sense that it was a very intense time but that there was something after. This last song on that album, “We Float”, starts out in a very almost angry way but there's an incredible emerging sense of grace that develops over the course of the song. It gave you the sense that there really was going to be a way forward during that time.
Song: PJ Harvey – “We Float”
AV: Previously you had mentioned architecture and it's relationships to culture and society. How would music apply to this equation to maybe help formulate ideas or inspiration for projects that you are involved in?
MM: Well, I think architecture is an amalgam of a set of different influences. And as an architect I think one of the most important things is to just constantly try to be in tune with that. It has a long history in that you depend on when you're thinking about designing a building, but it also relates to the time that we're in and I think architecture at it's very best is it's ability to connect to that history. But architecture fundamentally has a responsibility to express our time and to create some picture, some representation, of what we're about now and I think music has got to be about the same thing.
AV: That was PJ Harvey with “We Float” selected by Michael Maltzan as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. So what's our next song?
MM: The last song is a Glen Campbell song, “There's No Me without You”. Glen Campbell is somebody who I started listening to at a very early age. “Wichita Lineman”,” Gentle on My Mind”, “Galveston”, each one of them, especially the Jimmy Webb songs, are so perfect. Those songs seemed to have this sense of longing, sense of wanting to find the next thing, For me, they were very much the way that I felt. This last song which is from his last album, and probably is his last album, has, in my mind, that same sense of perfection.
Song: Glen Campbell – “There's No Me without You”
AV: That was Glen Campbell with his “No Me Without You” as selected by Michael Maltzan as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Michael, it's been a pleasure. Thanks for joining us at KCRW.com.
MM: It's been fun, thanks.
AV: For a complete track listing and to find these songs online, go to KCRW.com/guestdjproject and subscribe to podcast through Itunes.