More Songs About Buildings

on david bryne’s playing the building.

David Byrne, Playing the Building, Battery Maritime Building, New York City, Summer 2008.

David Byrne’s project, Playing the Building, available for viewing, playing, and listening at New York’s renovated Battery Maritime Terminal, explores a number of questions, among them:

  • What is a musical instrument?
  • What does it mean to be able to “play” a musical instrument?
  • How do people interact around musical instruments?
  • What is the relationship between music and architecture?

Most of all, to me, the project does something odd. It starts out complex, an art piece that seems to pose as many lines of inquiry and questioning as the bundles of pneumatic tubes, wires, and coils tumbling out of the old pump organ at the center of the exhibition. You could write a dissertation about each one. Then, the more I think about Byrne’s piece, the more simple it is. All that the project seems to really want to do is to ask “wouldn’t it be cool to be able to play a building?”

The play’s the thing. As Byrne puts it in a Pitchfork TV interview (see below), the point of the project is the pleasure of touching parts of the building one would never imagine being able to affect…and, to put a finger on what’s so fun about it, the pleasure of touching them through sound.

  • Image: Creative Time

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