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|Playing a City|
LONDON Housed in the main performance area on the second floor of the Roundhouse is a tangle of wood and plastic. In the middle of the room sits an organ, attached to it are clear pipes. A pressure gauge sits in a glass-encased cavity, controlling pistons around the room that clang and tick along the girders of the building. The sounds swallows up the space in the room steel and tin a resonating string. Sometimes a bass heavy note peels the air like a foghorn. Hipsters and the elderly stand in line waiting to plunk a note or a million -a horrendous noise played by musicians with no training.
David Byrne has overrun the Roundhouse with a new exhibition that is both playful and challenging. The faces of those attending the exhibition show wide interpretation, from awe to bewilderment. Even a few aggressive murmurs could be heard throughout the room, and a colleague near me actually whispered ‘This is stupid.’
The point of it all is easily missed.
When stepping into the room, there is initially confusion, then an overwhelming sense of disappointment. It is not a piece of art that arrests you immediately. You can be led to believe before seeing Playing the Building that you are to see the Roundhouse completely transformed, moulded by the quirky and enigmatic lead singer of the Talking Heads, but rave reviews, celebrity, and stupendous marketing from the Roundhouse cannot change the fact that the exhibition is not very visually stimulating. The knee jerk reaction is that it is, in fact, a bit ugly. It appears that little thought was put into the visual aesthetic, and the organ with its plastic pipes and pressure gauges, seems to be more like an alien ship landed in the middle of the room than a beating heart which plays the sounds of the theatre.
It is a sound piece however, and where the visual fails the sound only succeeds. The cerebral response to the ‘music’, or rather, the loud din made by the organs beating against the floor and walls, is discomfort. It does not sound like music, but it most certainly is. It is the music of the buildings, of the creaking floorboards and the wind through the cracked window.
More than most cities, London is the ideal place for such a commentary. It translates the noise of the city through the buildings instrumentation in rising and falling crescendo, in a din that is both great and terrible.
The noise of the exhibit, like the howling mad noise of the city, gets on top of you. At first, there is nothing to the clanging, the hoots and the hollers of wind through strangled pipes. As you stand there listening, astounding patterns begin to evolve, and a song begins to sing like a summer night in the city. The building is indeed playing to show us the music around us everyday.
Playing the Building
By David Byrne
Chalk Farm Rd
London, NW1, United Kingdom
+44 870 389 9920
£5 Tuesday through Sunday, and Mondays are pay what you can.