Saturday, August 29, 2009


David Byrne's "Playing the Building" @ the Roundhouse, 25th August

Here's DB to explain what it's all about:

The Roundhouse was built in 1846 as a repair shop for locomotives on the nearby London and North Western Railway. I suppose then it's maybe appropriate that the musical sounds produced by Byrne's installation have something of an industrial quality, although this might be true of all buildings. Previous incarnations of "Playing the Building"--at the Färgfabriken in Stockholm and the Battery Maritime Building in New York--seem to have produced sounds with similar characteristics.

Byrne makes a point of his intention to democratise the playing process. This might be true where musical pitch is concerned, but the way people interact with the instrument perhaps raises some questions. Aren't experienced players more "at home" at the keyboard and maybe more likely to experiment with the different features? If it's difficult to predict the pitch of the keys you press, what about rhythm? Aren't musicians at an advantage in that respect?

At busy times, Roundhouse staff have had to "move on" players who have stayed at the keyboard for more than a couple of minutes so that everyone gets a turn. Do the long queues make people bored by the time they get a go? Are players self-conscious when it's their turn because of the long queue of other people waiting behind them?

Disappointingly, you can't really "see how it works" as Byrne claims. The different types of mechanisms may not be hidden from view as such but they are so far away that it's impossible to see how the sounds are being produced.

Interesting idea though...

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