In this day when music is typically digitized and manipulated by computer, David Byrne (Talking Heads) has taken a giant step backward to a concept that could best be termed “extreme analog.”

“Playing The Building” is a performance art/sound installation in which the building itself becomes a giant musical instrument. Remote controlled percussive and pressurized air devices are used in conjunction with elements of the building’s structure (metal beams, support columns and water pipes) to produce sound. The machines can produce a stream of air, for flute sounds, as well vibrations and oscillations for percussion and string sounds.

In 2008, David Byrne and his crew wired up New York City’s Battery Maritime Building. As the accompanying video shows, devices were placed through the structure, and controlled by *at least on the outside) an antique pump organ. The devices are then connected by way of low-tech cables. As Byrne explains, the keys of the organ are actually being used as switches to fire off the various devices placed throughout the building. All in all, it takes about 3 weeks to make the transformation from building to giant musical instrument.

This year’s project is about to open in London, UK at the Roundhouse. This unique and historic structure dates back to the Victorian Age, and served originally as a steam engine repair shed. Following a massive refurbishment project, the Roundhouse reopened in June of ’06 as cultural venue. Year round, the Roundhouse presents creative projects covering radio, music production, drama, poetry, TV, sound engineering, photography, and VJ skills for up to 6,000 13-25 year-olds.

Central to the mission of the Roundhouse is interaction, whether it be an audience of young people interviewing Sir Paul McCartney for an online radio station or working with Apple to stream a live performance to people around the world. In this safe environment young people can develop self-esteem and confidence or gain valuable experience to help launch a career. So while David Byrne himself won’t be “Playing The Roundhouse,” the installation will be there for everyone to enjoy and experience.

David Byrne explains how it all works:

David Byrne’s interactive music/art project, "Playing The Building"
at South Street Seaport in NYC, 2008: