David Byrne’s installation transforms the Battery Maritime Building into a giant musical instrument, but the mysterious noises that emanate from all corners of the delightfully dilapidated industrial space have more in common with a late-80s Grateful Dead mid-set midi-freakout than whatever usually goes by “music.” Waiting and sweating in line for my turn at the tubed-up, souped-up organ, I decided that I’d blow all the other dilettantes away by laying down some serious maritime funk — this building needed a groove, and I was the man to do it!
But once I got my fingers on the keys, which trigger sound events through “wind, vibration, striking,” it became clear why everybody plays the building in exactly the same languidly tripped-out way: varying response times from button-push to noise don’t allow for a rhythm to emerge. Good-bye, funk! The lag undercuts any sense of control, and with the next eager punter breathing down your neck, there isn’t time to figure out how to use the instrument’s constraints to its advantage. The ferry terminal’s temporary transformation may be successful, but the title of the piece is fraudulent: in Lower Manhattan, the building plays you! Next time, can we skip “Space” and set up a giant industrial drum circle instead?
- Playing the Building at DavidByrne.com
- Justin Davidson in New York Magazine
- Video on BoingBoing and on YouTube