Thursday, June 12, 2008

More Songs About By Buildings...

David Byrne's latest project is Playing the Building, an installation now on view at the Battery Maritime Building in lower Manhattan.

Byrne basically transformed the building into an enormous instrument, attaching various devices to the structure (hammer, motors, pipes) that are controlled by a customized pump organ. There is clearly an egalitarian thrust; Byrne is getting us under one roof and then letting us play that roof...and the walls, and the radiators and columns and pipes... Entering the grand room you are met with the words "Please Play" stenciled on the floor.

I think some people might expect something more identifiably "musical," but that would be missing the point. Byrne's suggestion, I think, is toward an expansion of our interpretation of ambient sound. Like John Cage and Brian Eno before him, Byrne is refocusing the ear on the often overlooked spectrum of incidental sound, then harnessing it, framing it, taming and controlling it just enough to make salient its constituent elements. But more than stretching the bounds of what we consider music, the piece looks to erase certain barriers often constructed around art. Playing the Building succeeds in so far as it blurs the line between spectator and participant. It invites children to haphazardly pound the keys, then trace the wires to understand how that pounding triggered sounds.



The wires emanating from the organ are, of course, an apt symbol of branching networks and social interaction, thematic imagery common in Byrne's work. And with this installation the interactions are clear. There is the manipulation of the buildings sonority and timbre, its ambient sound, its natural acoustics, its echoes and reverberations; and there is also the next layer—the subsequent manipulation of others' perceptions in spatial and temporal dimensions.

So, what I'm saying is... go play a building. You can finally check that off your list of things to do before you die.



Creative Time Presents
Playing the Building: An Installation by David Byrne
The Battery Maritime Building
10 South Street, New York, NY (Map)
May 31 – August 10, 2008
Open Friday, Saturday, Sunday: Noon – 6PM (Free)


Also, in case you don't already have it bookmarked, Byrne's blog is consistently brilliant.

1 comment:

N. Brown said...

I love the idea of de-contextualizing the keyboard in an attempt to kind of democratize the experience. Really, really cool.