Maritime Music at the End of an Island: David Byrne’s “Playing the Building”

Byrne mines the rusty hull of the Maritime building for far-flung sounds just as he once explored the Amazon and Sahara for beats and hooks in his days as front man for the Talking Heads.

poster for

"Playing the Building" Exhibition

at Battery Maritime Building
in the Lower Manhattan area
This event has ended - (2008-05-31 - 2008-08-10)

In Reviews by Samuel Holleran 2008-06-08 print

David Byrne’s summer-long installation at the Battery Maritime Building nicely combines a fascination with the city’s dormant industrial past with the ear of sound artist ever-searching for new sources. Entering the building’s impressive second floor hall, is like walking into a Bernd and Hilla Becher photo: peeling paint, pressed tin, and pocked floorboards that give way to a large airy space lit by skylight. But unlike most long-forgotten industrial ruins, the Maritime’s long-silent columns and walls have been reawakened. A series of blue and yellow hoses link pipes and columns to an antique organ, centrally placed at the heart of the building under a warm spotlight. Here guests are invited to line up for their chance to “play” the building: striking keys that activate machines that tap on, bang, blow through, and vibrate the building’s cast iron, rolled steel, and stamped copper elements. The effect is sometimes melodic and often suggestive of the nonstop clatter that the building (which once housed a paint factory) might have been home to. One of the most striking features of the project is its dissonant croaking and groaning, and how wholly the sounds fit into their space.

With many site specific installations, especially spaces not normally open to the public, it is easy to pay more attention to the building than the art, but in Byrne’s creation there is no separation of the space from the installation. While visitors may initially focus on the organ in the middle of the room, soon they begin to follow lines stretching from it, and before long wander off to trace the origin of the strange sounds they have been making and hearing. Here, the site is the focus and a little poking around is to be encouraged.

Samuel Holleran

Samuel Holleran. Samuel Holleran is an illustrator, graphic artist, and cartoonist. He studied at the New School and the Universiteit van Amsterdam, and is currently at the Cooper Union. Having written on the history of the radical right in the Netherlands, reporting on the arts comes as a great pleasure. His interests include backgammon and (all varieties of) food. » See other writings


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