June 2008, David Byrne presented by Creative Time

Playing the Building,
A temporary installation by David Byrne presented by Creative Time.
May 31 - August 10, 2008

 David Byrne, (c) Pierre Francillon

Anyone who has ever spent any time in an old building knows about the strange sounds they make. The creaking floor boards and stairs, the whistling pipes, and the screeching door hinges are all noises we help create inadvertently, live with, tune out, and at various times find irritating, frightening, and curious. David Byrne takes this one step further by harnessing the sounds we take for granted in his latest installation, Playing the Building at the Battery Maritime Building. Originally formulated as a project for Fargfabriken, Stockholm in 2005, Byrne has incorporated both his musical and visual arts abilities to transform the second floor hall of the historic New York landmark into a 9,000 square-foot instrument. The Installation allows visitors to create "music" by playing an antique retrofitted organ attached to electrical conduits, pipes, beams, girders and columns through various devices such as air pumps, solenoids, and oscillating motors. The result is an architectural orchestra of pinging, whistles, and reverberations that anyone can take part in. - Jennifer Leighton

 David's contraption, (c) Pierre Francillon

On the globalization of the art world and its markets:
"As someone who is a fan and sometime participant I see two things happening simultaneously. I see art becoming mainly a status item, quality baubles for the moneyed set, and at the same time I see it becoming more generally popular. There is more truly interesting and incredible work being produced than ever before. The two (or was that three?) things are probably related—a Venn diagram would show them overlapping."

A really focused player, (c) Pierre Francillon

On what surprised him about Playing the Building:
"I was surprised at how successful it was, especially socially. The Swedish public of all ages had no trepidation about playing the thing, and those waiting their turn wandered around the space to see how the sounds were being made. Some of the amateurs got quite into it and were applauded after their short performances. It became a kind of social apparatus as well as being an installation. It became a shared communal experience—which was very moving for me to witness."

 An integrated view, (c) Pierre Francillon

On why he creates art using popular 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."

 View from the heart, (c) Pierre Francillon

 On finding the ecstatic in popular Culture:
" I didn’t expect it to have quite as strong an effect, but when the project was installed in Stockholm people who played the machine, the building, often got silly, ecstatic grins on their faces, and they’d tend to gaze upward—as that was where the sound-producing elements were mounted. So they did appear to be deeply moved. Yes, this humble “trick” seemed to touch something in the visitor-participants. Part of that is, I think, due to its transparency and simplicity—everyone can see exactly how it’s done, but it’s still slightly marvelous.
 I believe we have an innate longing for the spiritual and ecstatic. If we’re not getting it in church, synagogue, or temple then eventually we’ll locate it elsewhere: at a concert, a rave, Burning Man, or through sports or drugs, or even through some kinds of art."

 Colourful viewers (c) Pierre Francillon

"I’m aware that this piece works—if it does—as much because of the context as because of anything I’ve put in there....the Battery Maritime Building helps to visually tell the story of what this piece is about in a way that not every place can."

 David Byrne, (c) Pierre Francillon

"I like exploring the idea that pretty much anyone can be a writer, artist, or musician if they want to. It’s essential to me that this piece is to be played by people of all ages and abilities. Artists, musicians, kids, and grandmas. It’s not art or music that is presented to you, played by experts for you to simply consume. There’s nothing to consume—you have to make it yourself."

Where does it all go?, (c) Pierre Francillon

On emphasizing the invisible acoustic qualities of architectural sound:

"My favorite acoustics at the moment are the many varieties of increscent electronic chatter that surround us. I sometimes sing along with these sounds—though I’m not always aware that I’m doing so. I remember driving around Iceland and whenever we stopped and I took a picture the camera would go bleep-doop-bleep and I would unconsciously mimic these sounds, quietly, almost under my breath, as well as the car warning beeps, door chirps, and odd cell phone rings. My travel companion asked me if I often talk to machines. I guess I do."

The departing viewers (c) Pierre Francillon

On the nuance and quirks of space:
"As far as space goes, I sense that different architectural spaces “want” to have specific kinds of sounds inside them. The space creates a hole for sounds to fill, psychologically and physically—but only specific sorts of sounds seem to “fit” in each kind of space. The inherent acoustics of a room have far-reaching effects: they make you walk different and talk different. They make you feel different."

The heart of a machine, (c) Pierre Francillon

For more information and recordings visit Creative Time or David Byrne's website

All quotes are attributed to David Byrne.

Pierre Francillon

Pierre Francillon is a photographer and writer in New York.

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