Playing The Building

David Byrne

David Byrne, formerly of  Talking Heads, is transforming performing spaces into musical instruments by hooking up pipe organs to “metal beams, cast iron pillars and plumping pipes, via a sprawling mass of cables.  Read about it in BBC News and NY Times (links below):

Another group of artists called Mass Ensemble, which has morphed into Critical Mass, takes a collaborative approach to working with instrumentation on a monumental scale to make an indoor or outdoor performance space literally “sing”.  William Close, the artistic director and founder of Mass Ensemble, created the “Earth Harp”, which “is played using rosin covered cotton gloves.  The performers run their fingertips along the strings to create a longitudinal vibration that literally pushes the music through the molecules of the string.  This action is similar to running your fingers around the end of a crystal glass and creates beautiful, cello-like tones”.  See:

Bill Close was artist-in-residence at my kids’ school (Northbrook Junior High, in the Chicago suburbs) back in 1998, through the Illinois Arts Council Arts-In-Education program.  He brought them into his creative process by having them build instruments.  He showed them how his group strung their performance space with immense lengths of piano wire, which was plucked in a choreographed manner, producing harp-like compositions while incorporating dance.  The string music was accompanied by drumming on sculptural assemblages and other instruments .  At one of their performances, I had the opportunity to tape paper to the walls of their loft and paint along with the performance.  The vibrations and visual rhythm of their work generated my imagery, which ended up being calligraphic.

This type of work seems to jive with environmental, interactive installations that bring art to people in an engaging way that demonstrates how all the world can be our instrument, our canvas, our manuscript.

Mass Ensemble performer, by Lex Jenkins

Mass Ensemble performer, by Lex Jenkins

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