Composing a Space

An Original Music Drama Based on the Life and Architecture of Louis Kahn


Louis Kahn, foremost 20th-century American architect, perceived that buildings express a kind of music. This guiding precept underscored the spiritual connection in his creative world between space and sound. In his words:

To hear a sound is to see its space. Space has tonality, and I imagine myself composing a space lofty, vaulted, or under a dome, attributing to it a sound character alternating with the tones of a space, narrow and high, with graduating silver, light to darkness.” From Space and Inspirations 1967

Louis Kahn stood apart from his contemporaries in what he espoused, striving to create buildings connected to the past, and conceived based on the innate characteristics of materials, color, water, light, sound, and nature.

Kahn lived everywhere and nowhere, continuously on the move, searching for a sublime  “monumentality.”  He craved a nomadic existence, seeking ineffable “truth” to reflect in his buildings.

According to ethnomusicologist Theodore Levin, “nomads’ mimetic relationship to landscape and soundscape . . . imbues their sound-making with a sacred quality expressed through a belief in spirits.”

The Kahn Project proposes to capture this sound-space connection and recreate Kahn's perceptual world in a musical drama.  We are currently visiting Kahn’s sites to compile a source book of sounds and images. Concurrently, we are exploring the properties of these sounds and enhancing them through electronic means. Finally, in a fully staged narrative this musical drama will be realized in collaboration with theatrical and musical performers. The current website presents a sampling of our work.

Our highest hope is that those who witness this theatrical event will enter the world of Kahn and experience the spiritual monumentality engaged by his sounding spaces.

The Kahn Projectroject Team

Jenny Kallick, Team Leader, Amherst College Department of Music
John R. Downey, Jr., Field Research Leader, Technical and Composition Coordinator, Stanford University School of Medicine
Robert Bezucha, Consultant for Art and History, Amherst College Department of History
John Conklin, Set and Visual Design Leader, Tisch School of the Arts at New York University
Theodore Levin, Consultant for Global Sound and Nomadic Music, Dartmouth College
Mark Lane Swanson, Consultant for Musical Field Research, Amherst College Department of Music

The Kahn Project is funded by a grant from the Amherst College Faculty Research Award Program (FRAP)

Contact the Kahn Project at


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© 2005 Kahn Project