Today we visited The Roundhouse, near Camden market. We went to see an installation by David Byrne called “Playing the Building”. The installation basically turns the building itself into a giant musical instrument. Mechanisms are installed that hit, vibrate, or blow air through various parts of the structure of the building to produce sounds. Some of the elements include columns, catwalks, and mechanical or electrical conduits. The striking/vibrating/blowing mechanisms are then connected to an old pump organ in the centre of the space by long, low-tech cables and tubes. When the keys of the organ are pressed, the sounds of the building are played.
There was a very long lineup of people waiting for their turn to play the organ, so we didn’t actually get to try our hand at performing. Instead, we just sat in the space for about an hour and listened to the other visitors playing. It was interesting how the sounds transformed from noise and clutter into distinct voices as we listened. There were no cover tunes played on this instrument, or indeed any kind of recognizable songs. Instead, because the sounds were coming from everywhere around you, they created a sort of calming ambiance. It was not unlike the sensation of being in a forest full of the sounds of the trees and wind — a similar sensation, but with very different sounds. Very cool stuff.