Down in New York for the weekend, I decided to take a break from some ear-shattering concerts (short review: Deerhoof rocked Prospect Park, Parts & Labor absolutely killed it at Siren Music Festival) to check out David Byrne’s Playing the Building exhibit at the Battery Maritime Building in Manhattan. The instillation is a wonderful little experiment. Byrne rigged up an old organ and attached each key to a tube that then sets off a sound within different parts of the building. Each key either triggers the sound of banging, whistling, or vibrating in different portions of the structure, thereby creating the concept of “playing the building.”
There are various ideas encapsulated within the instillation that resonate within emo and numerous punk and post-punk genres, to which Byrne himself has been such a vibrant part of since he was a founding member of Talking Heads. The instillation is meant to be an exploration of music in that the sounds emitting from the organ are in no ways linear by classical standards of tuning or performance; while classically-trained musicians will find frustration in the process, those without any musical background and “non-musicians” should potentially use the opportunity to explore making music on such an open template. Whereas knowing how to play an instrument versus a lack of experience or knowledge is the first of many boundaries that helped create the olde world rock status that punk revolted against, Byrne’s installation destroys all those boundaries. If anything, it shifts those boundaries against those with formal training, making it frustrating for those individuals to attempt to create the kind of compositions they’re used to.
Aside from that, Byrne’s exhibit makes it able for anyone with access to said exhibit and patience to wait in line the temporary ability to try their hand at making music (or just plain noise) for a temporary amount of time. Part of what makes emo (and other punk genres) so appealing is that it’s focused on allowing every individual to make music by their own means (or rather, any individual who is up to the task of doing that). But hey, instruments aren’t like penny candy, and those are usually the first resources to grab in order to make music. With Playing the Building, all you need is a Metro card and the ability to sign a waver and you have your chance to make your own noise.
After a 20 minute wait, I tried my hand at “Chopsticks” and fooled around with the keys before quickly getting up, taking a good-humored bow for the patient folks who were behind me. Look out Lil Wayne, I’m about to grab your spot on Billboard.
More good news from the land of upcoming releases. TV on the Radio have announced the release of their next album! Due out at the end of September, Dear Science, should be another great addition to what has been a wonderful array of noise, punk, and art-rock releases for 2008. Never mind my usual attempts to discuss hype, but whatever you want to call this collection of underground music bubbling up around the country it’s looking to be big. The new new alternative? Maybe. Whatever the case may be, it sure sounds great.