On Monday, I ventured up to Camden to take a look at David Byrne’s Playing The Building installation at the Roundhouse. It’s an old organ which has been gutted and rewired so it can be hooked up to the pipes, pillars and beams of the venue. Each key on the keyboard now triggers mallets, airstreams and motors that make the room clang, drone and rumble as you play. After a long time spent queueing, I was finally able to play the organ myself – it was the last day of the project, and the place was quite crowded.
Hitting the highest keys caused hammers to tap bits of the room, which made amusing but not very sonically-pleasing clacking sounds. I avoided these keys and focused on the middle range, which made air stream along pipes high in the rafters, like blowing across the top of a milk bottle. These sounds were quite beautiful, and exploring the keyboard to find harmonic, resonant combinations of tones was a thrill.
The installation has since 2005 hit Stockholm, New York and London. If it comes to your town, I think it’s worth a visit.