Saturday, December 8, 2012

Playing the Building

I was lucky enough to catch David Byrne's Playing the Building installation here in Minneapolis with some friends a few days before it ended. Glad I did, too.

Apparently we were only the third city to host this piece, after Stockholm and NYC. We can BE SOMEBODY!

A performer/ spectator sits at a small keyboard. Each key is attached by a series of wires and tubes to devices that strike, vibrate, and blow assorted surfaces and objects throughout the space. A composition emerges via physical interaction with the building's structure. The experience is simultaneously subtle and jarring, and of course three dimensional.

Above: one of the hammers responds to a keystroke from the performer. The mechanisms that activate contact with the building are complex and quite beautiful. And it's a lovely choice not only to decline to conceal them, but for the lighting design to feature them as objects of admiration. My friends and I were especially impressed by the tubes that blew into pipes to produce lovely droning tones, like the embouchure of giant flutes.

One visceral reaction: this installation must have been a huge pain in the ass to install. And here's a video of the Minneapolis installation that offers a glimpse of just that:

I had the privelege of playing the building myself briefly, and what struck me most was the fact that the building actually could be played. Once I'd familiarized myself with the keyboard layout, which of course works like a giant sampler each key of which is hooked up to an actual event in space rather than a sample patch, I found that once I'd selected some favorites I could recall their locations pretty well, and even improvise effectively by selecting certain "samples" to hit at certain times.

I'd read about this installation before, and it certainly sounded like a neat idea. But having actually experienced it myself, I was touched by the degree of intimacy it afforded the spectator between the artist, the piece, and the experience of the building.

Find out more about Playing the Building if you like-- audio, video, interviews, all that. Highly recommended!

Mike Hallenbeck home page

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