Neil Denari

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Architect Neil Denari is an influential force in the culture of contemporary architecture and has a unique point of view that is reflected in his left of center song picks. He credits music as a driving force in encouraging him to push his own ideas and “make new paradigms”. He is currently featured in MOCA’s exhibit “A New Sculpturalism: Contemporary Architecture from Southern California”.

Track List:

1. Theme From Shaft – Isaac Hayes
2. Kurt’s Rejoinder – Brian Eno
3. 2nd Movement, Symphony No. 5 – Glenn Branca
4. The Bridge – Lee Ranaldo
5. Keep Your Dreams – Suicide (from the First Album)


Eric J. Lawrence: Hi, I'm Eric J. Lawrence and I am here with architect Neil Denari. He's an influential force in the culture of contemporary architecture with notable projects here in LA, New York and Japan. He's also a professor at UCLA, has won numerous accolades for his distinct work, authored two best selling books and given hundreds of lectures around the world. Today, we'll be talking about some songs that have inspired him over the years as part of KCRW's Guest DJ Project. Neil, thank you so much for joining us.

Neil Denari: Hi Eric, great to be here.

EJL: So what's the first song you got for us here?

ND: The first song is theme from Shaft by Black Moses, Isaac Hayes. I was 13  at the time, you know in Texas, growing up in suburbia and a lot of classical music around the house, opera and so forth, so just the whole introduction to black culture was so different, of course from what I knew at the time. 

I think the most important thing was that this song, in it's kind of competitive, insistent, driving form, felt so much different than verse, chorus, verse of pop music, or some of the bombast of rock music of the time, and it was just so stripped down. It was all about texture and rhythm so I felt like I was really sensing that I was connecting to texture and rhythm more than the melody. The lyrics don't come in until two and a half minutes so I consider it like this instrumental song. It's just awesome.

Song: Isaac Hayes – Theme from Shaft

EJL: That was the Theme from Shaft from Isaac Hayes, selected by our guest, Neil Denari. What's the next track you've got for us?

ND: The next track is called Kurt's Rejoinder by Brian Eno, from his “Before and After Science” album from 1977. I was in undergraduate school in Houston at the time and, of course, I was studying architecture and getting immersed in all of that.

This was the first time where a musician, Eno -- who said I'm not a musician, by the way, I really construct ideas in a studio -- I felt connected to the idea of music, let's say, as sort of an intellectual project but at the same time it was still music that you wanted to dance to. So this is the architectural song and Eno as a kind of designer. Totally opened my eyes to new things.

Song: Brian Eno – Kurt’s Rejoinder

EJL: Does the intertextuality of the arts, such as things like music and visual arts. Does that connect with your sense of architecture?

ND: Yes, it does. I think that architecture is one among many media. The classic sense is architecture is the most eternal one and timeless and it's got to be built for a long time and everything else is a little bit ephemeral and things sort of come and go, but I really feel like architecture always needs to connect to its time and its zeitgeist and so forth but I think the sense of mood and atmosphere of different medias is constantly affecting the way I think and I spend as much time doing all the research in other fields as I do my own field to be able to inform the work.

EJL: That was Brian Eno with “Kurt's Rejoinder” as selected by our guest, Neil Denari. What’s the next track you have for us?

ND: Eric, the next track is the 2nd movement of Symphony No. 5 by Glenn Branca. This is an interesting piece. It’s a symphony, but it's written in 1984. And this is the one piece out of the five that I saw performed live, when I lived in New York. 

I saw this poster --I hadn't heard of Branca -- and I saw this poster and I was living in the East Village and the title of the piece is called "Describing Planes in an Expanding Hypersphere" and I said, "I'm going to that." So I went to my local record store on 8th Street and I'm like "give me a ticket for the show" and he's chuckling at me as I leave and he goes "you better bring your earplugs". And I go "why?" and he goes, "Just do a little bit of research, okay, before you go." I was afraid, and I don't think I had earplugs, I had like cotton.  I went with a friend and we walked in and there were 10 Marshall stacks about 15 feet away from us and we said "oh my god this is just going to be intense". 

In fact it was, it was a real epiphany for me. You know, Branca's not for everybody, for sure, but on a sonic level, just the way in which something so structured could create a body-related experience, something so physical, it never left me. Really he's one of my favorite composers, you know, still to this day and I see him whenever I can.

EJL: Well here's Glenn Branca, with the 2nd Movement from Symphony No. 5.

Song: Glen Branca – Symphony No. 5

EJL: That was Glenn Branca with Symphony No. 5.  You can take your earplugs out (laughs)… What’s the next track you've got for us?

ND: Well, this track is called The Bridge, by Lee Ranaldo and Lee, of course, was a founding member of Sonic Youth. This particular piece was really about living in New York and it both signaled my love for New York, but also some sense of I had to make good on my mission to come and live in Los Angeles.

EJL: New York is so monolithic, and obviously with music there is a lot of inspiring music that has come out of New York, still to this day. Was New York inspiring for you from an architectural standpoint?

ND: Yes it was, in a kind of lets reverse fashion. In the 80's when all of this amazing music was happening architecture was reverting back to a conservative, historical, dark ages model in a way. 

So what was great was that the music was sort of this driving force for me to kind of push my ideas in my own medium because there wasn't anything else to look at and I felt, just as a person making things, I felt connected to these guys in thinking about conceptual ideas and just trying to get to the point where you could really make architecture that had a kind of mission to it.  I feel like it's the same cultural mission these musicians had which was to innovate, to make new paradigms, make new forms, challenge the audience.

EJL: Well here's a selection from Lee Ranaldo. It's "The Bridge"

Song: Lee Renaldo – The Bridge

EJL: A very New York City-centric song from Lee Ranaldo, "The Bridge" as selected by our guest, Neil Denari. What's the last track you've got for us?

ND: Well Eric, we're going to wrap it up I think with optimism and sunshine.

EJL: Okay

ND: We're going to bring it to LA. This is "Keep Your Dreams" by Suicide. Now, by the time I decided to move to LA in '88 and it was, again, my long-standing dream to come to LA, even when I was a kid, and finally making good on that. 

This song, when I hear it, I think the city as a kind of collection of dreams. Both dreams that have come true, dreams that have washed up on shore, dreams that have crashed and burned. The dream of utopia, but it's a cracked utopia; all of these things are why I love living here. Alan Vega the lead singer, who sort of crossed Elvis and Iggy Pop, brings a kind of sense of earnestness even though all he's saying is "Keep Your Dreams, Baby Baby Baby". 

It's like being in your car and the city of LA doesn't have a discernable form. You've got to make it up in your own head and when I hear this song it allows me to make up LA again and again in my own head and kind of live out the dream in the dream-like utopia.

Song: Suicide – Keep Your Dreams

EJL: That was Suicide with "Keep Your Dreams" as selected by our guest Neil Denari. Neil, thank you so much for joining us.

ND: Thanks Eric, it's been great. 


EJL: For a complete track listing and to find these songs on-line go to KCRW.COM/GUESTDJPROJECT and subscribe to the podcast through iTunes.