An Essay on Design
All the lights are off, save for the one on my desk. It casts a stark diagonal line separating the light and the dark across the keyboard where I type these words. I just put two ice cubes in a small glass and poured some Bulliet whiskey. I take a sip and sit down under the light.
There is a common phrase that goes writing about music is like dancing about architecture. I think Theloneous Monk said it. Or was it Elvis Costello? No one seems to really know for sure. Whoever it was, I think they meant that using one medium to discuss another medium never works—you can’t talk about one thing through another. The work must speak for itself. But it feels fitting to be writing this essay on design because I’ve started to see design and writing as the same thing—both of them are a way of forming ideas and giving ideas form. In fact, the Dutch word for designer is vormgever which translates literally to “form giver”.
I can still feel some of the energy of a good concert a few days later. I think it is at concerts that I feel most alive. I liked to go to concerts often because I feel like a good musical performance can remind you of what it means to be human. Something profound happens when you put a bunch of people in a room with some music. Suddenly everything else fades, all of our differences fall away, and for a few hours, we sing and dance and clap and scream together. Somewhere in the middle of the excitement, we become one. I’m among friends.
Willie Williams, the set designer who designed U2’s 360 Tour, says his job is about exchanging energy. It’s his job to create a space for energy to move freely from performer to audience, audience to performer, and between the audience. When that energy moves it can be transcendent. You get feel like a part of something bigger. You get the sense that something bigger is going on here. The experience takes on a spiritual dimension.
I never leave a concert the way I entered. The world feels different when I walk out of the theater. I leave having experienced an exchange of energy. My ears are ringing. My heart is leaping. As I return to the real world, the cool breeze hits my sweaty face, there is still some dance in my step. I feel connected. I feel—even if just for a bit—a little less alone.