Monday, July 14, 2008

David Byrne’s "Playing the Building"

David Byrne’s new art installation is quite the auditory experience. It plays with the sounds already present in the former terminal of the Staten Island Ferry. A single organ is situated in the center of an empty room that has hardly been restored since the building was used for its original purpose. Byrne used wires to attach each organ key to fixtures located all around the room. The wires are connected to different aspects of the building that can make sound. When the building is “played,” sounds are produced that simulate those of conventional musical instruments from woodwinds to strings to percussion, except that the sounds are more primitive in nature. When a key is played, vibrations are sent to the connected wire and travels to the motor. Each motor produces a different sound and pitch. When multiple keys are played, a gathering of clanks, whistles and booms rise up the empty room and echo off. This piece of art is something that you must hear with your own ears to understand. The beauty of this installation is its interactive quality. Visitors can play the organ and actually create the clanking sounds of an ancient building. The installation is like an art gallery, but it is at the same time very unique. To get the complete experience, it is beneficial to walk around the room and hear the sounds from different angles. Unlike in an art gallery where walking around allows for a different perspective of the visual display, the location in which the visitor stands gives a new perspective on the sound as well.

We have referred to the other interns for ideas on what to do with students on a class trip to the exhibit. We have played with the idea of having students respond to a drawing or writing prompt. As far as the drawings go, we came up with ideas such as the students drawing what they think the space might have used to look like, drawing an imaginary instrument that they think could produce a certain sound they hear, or designing some sort of basic design inspired by the clean lines of the room. A writing activity would allow the students to pay more attention to the sounds they hear, rather than the visuals. Prompts included the question of whether what they hear is music and what they believe music to be. Another prompt questioned whether they consider the exhibit to be art. We also like the idea of students simply listening to the sounds. If they spread out and sit alone in different parts of the room, they will be able to better appreciate what they hear. If students are not with their friends, they will listen to the sounds rather than talking, and there will be less miscellaneous noise that may distract people from hearing the clanks, rings, and whistles of the installation.

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