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David Byrne’s Playing the Building

Roberta sees -- and hears -- a participatory public project by David Byrne in New York and says its percussive flavor, with sounds bouncing off the walls and ceilings of an old downtown maritime building reminded her of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller's sonic piece at Eastern State Penitentiary

A passer by sits at David Byrne's piano in Playing the Building in New York, a Creative Time project.
A passer by sits at David Byrne’s piano in Playing the Building in New York, a Creative Time project in 2008.

Inside the Battery Maritime Building on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays this summer you can take a turn playing David Bryne‘s interactive, tricked-out antique organ (pull out all the stops and push the foot pedals and all).  The sounds made by the organ are not musical notes but sonic tweets, squeeks, clanks, rattles and throaty whoots made by metal attachments and other gizmos the artist attached to the building then hooked up to the organ so the organ “plays” the building when you play the organ.

The project reminded me of Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller‘s sonic work Pandemonium at Eastern State Penitentiary where taps and clacks arose from building attachments triggered by a computer program.  That piece wasn’t interactive and had an orchestrated crescendo of sounds that was music-like if not musical.
Byrne’s piece is more chaotic as people randomly push, pull and tap at the organ and nobody stays long enough to get up the learning curve and actually play something interesting.  Nevertheless, everyone seemed pretty happy when we were there Friday.

A Creative Time public art project, Playing the Building was originally commissioned and produced in Stockholm in 2005. The piece will be up until Aug. 24 (extended beyond the closing date of Aug. 10).  CT says they are inviting musicians to come and interact with the piece and will announce those performance dates.  That might be the time to see the project at its best.

Cate, Stella and I visited it on Friday and Cate took five little movies.