No. 527 . 10 August 2011 
ArchitectureWeek

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HS#9 by Coop Himmelb(l)au

by Sylvia Lavin

"Revolution 9" is a song recorded by the Beatles and released on The White Album in 1968, that heady year when students were demonstrating across Europe, the Vietnam War was at a fever pitch, and Coop Himmelb(l)au was founded in Vienna. The song has been described as the best-known work of avant-garde music and the most disliked moment of any Beatles album.

Key to the work's Jekyll and Hyde reputation is that unlike most Beatles songs, with their sweetly straightforward lyrics and comparatively unencumbered sound, "Revolution 9" is frustratingly difficult to understand.

For some, this suggests a connection to musique concrète and opens the Beatles up to more than just a pop music legacy. For others, however, the song's sampling of bits of music by Sibelius and Beethoven opens the Beatles up to accusations that they abandoned their audience and the band's obligation to make listeners feel good.

The result has been a mash-up of interpretations and misinterpretations, the most famous being the one celebrated by conspiracy theorists who listen to the song backwards and claim that when John Lennon repeats the words "number nine, number nine," he is confirming — in secret code intelligible only à la Leonardo da Vinci, in reverse — that Paul McCartney had died and had been replaced by a doppelgänger in 1966.

It is uncanny how much of this description applies to Coop Himmelb(l)au's High School #9. And I don't just mean the uncanny coincidence of the number nine itself, but of the trauma of interpretation and value that the two number nines have produced.

Like the song, the building has been both celebrated for its radical form and chastised for its apparent abandonment of its obligation to its audience who are used to and therefore may still want conventional school buildings. Indeed, of all of the relatively recent public commissions in Los Angeles, from Frank Gehry's Disney Concert Hall to the Caltrans Headquarters by Morphosis and Renzo Piano's Broad pavilion at LACMA, the high school is the most classically avant-garde.   >>>

This article is excerpted from Coop Himmelb(l)au: Central Los Angeles Area High School #9 for the Visual and Performing Arts by Coop Himmelb(l)au, with an essay by Sylvia Lavin, copyright © 2010, with permission of the publisher, Prestel.

 

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