Tuesday, May 13, 2008
Playing the Building
David Byrne is perhaps best known as the frontman and songwriter of the new wave band Talking Heads. His newest project turns buildings into instruments.
According to Byrne, Playing the Building is a sound installation in which the infrastructure, the physical plant of the building, is converted into a giant musical instrument. Devices are attached to the building structure — to the metal beams and pillars, the heating pipes, the water pipes — and are used to make these things produce sound. The activations are of three types: wind, vibration, striking. The devices do not produce sound themselves, but they cause the building elements to vibrate, resonate and oscillate so that the building itself becomes a very large musical instrument.
"I'd like to say that in a small way it turns consumers into creative producers," Byrne explains on his official site, "but that might be a bit too much to claim. However, even if one doesn't play the thing, it points toward a less mediated kind of cultural experience. It might be an experience in which one begins to reexamine one's surroundings and to realize that culture -- of which sound and music are parts -- doesn't always have to be produced by professionals and packaged in a consumable form.
"I'm not suggesting people abandon musical instruments and start playing their cars and apartments," he adds, "but I do think the reign of music as a commodity made only by professionals might be winding down. The imminent demise of the large record companies as gatekeepers of the world's popular music is a good thing, for the most part."
In an interview with Anne Pasternak, curator of Playing the Building, Byrne explained his love of pop culture.
"That's partly due to my upbringing. I was taught that elitism is bad, and though I'm not sure I believe anymore that all bits of specialized knowledge or appreciation are bad, I realize this pushes me to democratize what I do. So I often make things out of low, or at least not luxe or precious, materials (like pop music, PowerPoint, an old organ, and empty buildings) that are accessible and approachable to all sorts of people."
Plato would have put David Byrne up for adoption.