Saturday, May 31, 2008

Qu'est-ce que c'est?
David Byrne's "Playing the Building"

Clanging radiators and whistling pipes are more often the soundtrack to insomniac nights than to downtown art openings. But David Byrne's new installation, "Playing the Building," transforms the noise into music.

The installation is on the second floor of the Battery Maritime Building, at the corner of South and Whitehall Streets, in Lower Manhattan. It's an ideal setting for the experiment. The 9000-square-foot space has the feel of an abandoned warehouse, the type of place where one might expect to hear mysterious creaking and clanking. The requirement that visitors sign a waiver before entering gives the sense that the building might be slightly dangerous. However, the skylight running across the ceiling is reassuring; strange noises are less disconcerting in sunlight.

The room's centerpiece is the organ, which looks like a mad scientist's gift to Philip Glass. It sprouts wires and tubes leading to the building's pipes and columns. Striking the organ's white keys pumps air through the tubes and activates clapper mechanisms attached to the pipes. Adeet and I lined up with other would-be industrial musicians for the chance to play. When it was my turn, I experienced a momentary disconnect between the sounds I was hearing and the keys I was playing. My brain still expected to hear typical organ sounds, not the mechanic humming and banging of the infrastructure. As I watched others play, I started to imagine all old buildings with master organists hidden away, playing the furnaces and plumbing.

Later, at a reception on the main floor, people drank bottles of Grolsch from paper bags and ate hot dogs messy with ketchup. We saw David Byrne standing off to a corner, by himself, looking slightly uncomfortable. He made his way out of the room and headed back toward the installation. Perhaps the building had more to say.
photo and video by Adeet Deshmukh


VRBANVS X P P said...

I see what you did there.

When u enterz teh blogosferes u enterz it wit a Bang.

aaron said...

Mrs. Talidas would be proud to see you playing the keys again.

Kelly said...

Lovin' the blog!