'Playing the Building', David Byrne's installation was on at the Roundhouse in London from 8-31 August of this year. He has previously installed 'Playing the Building' in Fargfabriken in Stockholm, and in an old ferry terminal in Lower Manhattan, New York. In his original proposal for the project in August 2003 he wrote
"A sound installation in which the infrastructure, the physical plant of a building is converted into a giant musical instrument. ( I use the term musical loosely. It might not play melodies in the conventional sense... but it might.)....
It is a way of activating the sound-producing qualities that are inherent in all materials." (David Byrne, 2005, quote taken from the leaflet accompanying the Roundhouse installation)
The Roundhouse itself was a really interesting theatre to visit, with a photo display on the first floor which illustrates a timeline of the building and all the different events and organisations which have used the building. It's an unusual space, starting life as a steam engine repair shed, with, as you would imagine from the name, a round central space. I can imagine it would often make the use of the building for theatre/art/music more of a challenge. It worked incredibly well with this show though.
In the middle of the room is a beautiful antique wooden organ which is all connected up with cables which are attached to the metal girders and pillars which form the structure of the space. Anyone can sit down at the organ and 'play the building'. I liked watching how people, myself included, were at first a bit shy or scared to sit down and play but once people do it's great to see how much they enjoy it. While we were there there was a young girl, who looked like she knew what she was doing, who was getting so much enjoyment out of the strange sounds emitting from her playing. Hitting different keys makes different cables move, which then trigger vibrations in the pillars, girders and beams they're attached to. I found a quote from a press conference for the opening on Art Review which contains a quote from Byrne, discussing the democratic nature of the piece "“everyone is as good at playing it as anyone else. It’s not the sort of performance you consume. We’re used to consuming culture, of going to sit down and have it fed to us. In this case, you have to do it yourself – and if you don’t do it, you don’t get anything out of it.” Being forced to interact with the work and with the space was great - fun and thought-provoking.
NB. The first theatre in the Roundhouse was established by Arnold Wesker in 1964. Called Centre 42, it was the first time the building had been used as an arts venue. So, here's another Lindsay Anderson connection (it seems we can find them almost everywhere!). In an interview on 'What's on Stage' on 4 April 2005 Wesker says of Anderson
"There’s no doubt that my first career break was when I asked Lindsay Anderson to read a play of mine called Chicken Soup with Barley. He read it, and he said, "You really are a playwright, aren’t you? Will you let me show this to George Devine at the Royal Court?""