David Byrne attends the opening of 'Playing the Building' at Aria

David Byrne 
David Byrne 

Yesterday, Talking Heads founder David Byrne was at Aria for the opening of Playing the Building, an installation that enables participants to make music out of the 17,000-square-foot structure, which formerly housed Theatre de la Jeune Lune. The installation, which first premiered in Stockholm at Färgfabriken, has also been installed in New York City and London. It features a retrofitted antique organ, placed in the first-floor gallery, that controls a series of devices attached to various architectural parts of the building. The results is an echoed, ominous orchestra: water pipes become flutes, beams become percussive instruments, and so forth. 

David Byrne attends the opening of 'Playing the Building' at Aria

When he was first proposing ideas to the Färgfabriken exhibition space in Stockholm, Byrne originally thought he'd create a giant microwave. Eventually, it was discovered that it would be unfeasible from a technological standpoint. Instead, he created Playing the Building, which essentially transforms a structure into a giant musical instrument. 

Byrne says that he was interested in creating an interactive piece. "For me, it was very important that its not something that I put in and then I sit and play, but it's something the public sits and plays," he says. "So they get to experience the building's potential for making sound and they get to be the player." 

David Byrne attends the opening of 'Playing the Building' at Aria

What audience members take away, he says is "a democratization of themselves, as musicians," Byrne says. The installation is set up so that everybody is as good as everybody else. Whether you're five years old or 90 years old, you still engage with the piece in a creative way -- even if you quit piano lessons after a year. 

In other cities where the installation has opened, Byrne has been surprised with how polite people have been in taking turns. As a frequent visitor to Minneapolis, he expects the same thing to happen here. 

Each of the keys on the organ are connected to some part of a building. For example, there are air compressor pumps that connect to different pipes, making a whistling sound like a flute. There are strikers that tap on a structural element, making it percussive. There are motors that create a low growling sound. There's also electrical wiring, though Byrne says that all of the technology used would have been around 100 years ago. 
David Byrne attends the opening of 'Playing the Building' at Aria

When you play, there aren't actually notes. But in general the lower notes on the keyboard correspond with lower sounds, and higher keys correlate with higher sounds. The result is a rather spooky, chilling experience. 

None of the devices are covered, because Byrne wants people to be able to see how the whole thing works. In fact, he's declined to install the exhibit in buildings that are too new, because an essential aspect of the piece is to have exposed pipes and electrical conduits and things accessible. 


Playing the Building
Open every day through December 4
Check ariampls.com for specific times
Tickets are $10 for adults, $5 for children, with pay-what-you-can on Thursdays

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