David Byrne Sonic Architect

A second reason to visit New York this summer (the first reason).

“So, what do you want to know?” asks David Byrne, beaming beneath a straw fedora, as erudite and affable as ever, even with a couple busted ribs. “What’s not apparent?” He’s gesturing to an ornate antique organ, the only adornment to this cavernous 9,000-square-foot hall in the Battery Maritime Building in Lower Manhattan. A bewildering farm of tubes and wires runs out from the back and snakes along to the walls, the towering columns, and the pipes looming overhead, as if the instrument itself were on life support. Not much, at first blush, is apparent.

David would like it if you came and had a go at the organ. Or, more accurately, the venue itself. Playing the Building, his partnership with arts gurus Creative Time, is basically an interactive experimental-music station, a chance for you (and/or your kids) to pretend you’re a member of Einstüerzende Neubauten for a couple minutes. Each key on the organ connects to a tube, which connects to some facet of the building, which dutiful whirls or clanks or whistles or saws at your command. The tones are generally arranged low to high on the keyboard, though you can’t exactly play “Stormy Weather” on it; it’d be more satisfying, perhaps, to rattle off a few full-keyboard slides, Bugs Bunny/Jerry Lee Lewis–style, though so far, everyone seems too polite (or too fearful of busting the thing) to do this. Probably just as well. Your choice, though. Spray-painted in yellow onto the cement floor at the foot of the organ is a simple request: “Please play.”

[From village voice > music > Down in Front: David Byrne: Sonic Architect by Rob Harvilla ]

The exhibit will be open till mid-August – he ought to take it on tour to a few other urban environments around the world (including Chicago, of course).

David Byrne blogs about the installation:

Playing the Building — my installation in the Battery Marine Building — opened to the public today. Creative Time had music, hot dogs, beer and ice cream downstairs. (No food or drink from the party was allowed in the actual installation space.) My iPod provided the music and I saw at least one couple dancing! The line to play the organ traversed all the way to the Staten Island Ferry Terminal. The fire department only allows 150 people in the space at one time since the exits are not all well lit — hence the long wait times. But there were other long lines were just for ice cream or beer.

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