Friday, 15 August 2008

Playing the room

I recently saw an article about an interesting project by David Byrne (of Talking Heads); he'd taken over an old ferry terminal in Manhattan and made it into a huge musical instrument.

Visitors can 'play' the building through an organ keyboard. Air whistling through the building's pipework makes a flute, or an organ; grilles rattle as percussion, metal hammers strike metal sheets and clang or clash.

The building has become a performance. And it's a performance which is interactive, which appeals to the curiosity of the visitor.

I've seen other installations where visitors turn  lights on and off simply by their presence, or start films rolling.  (Of course, they don't get much choice in the matter with such a simple installation.) But treating the whole building as  a work of art that can be recreated by the  visitor is more ambitious.

It's a pity that so much work on building automation is focused on petty quotidian concerns. It's so pedestrian, so limited - turn the fridge on and off, lock the door, heat the house, feed the cat.

But if I had a house I could play like an instrument - or conduct like an orchestra - I'd want to do more than play 'Baa baa black sheep '. I'd want sliding panels to channel the light; different colours  and intensities of light ; I'd want to be able to create a corridor or a larger room by rearranging the walls. I'd want to do more than just play music on hidden speakers - I'd want to move it around the house, so I could start a sound in the hall and let it run upstairs and into the bathroom, or swoosh it around the main room.

And ultimately, there's something wonderful about a building that isn't just a container for art - as a room is when we play music in it - but that creates that art itself. A building that acts,  rather than just being.          That's why we find fountains and wind towers and sun pipes so interesting - because they create the illusion that a building has life, has secrets, is an active participant in our lives rather than a mere box, a construct.

1 comment:

  1. Thoroughly awesome link. I was just musing about some sound installation art the other day and this gave me something else to think about. Check my blog in a day or so - I plan on following up on your post.