Please play the building

This Sunday we were at the Roundhouse in Camden to explore David Byrne’s installation Playing the Building. In a totally empty central hall a small organ stands in the middle, with its guts ripped out. As a replacement it has three types of cables/tubes coming out and leading to all corners of the Roundhouse. The keys of the organ have become simple switches that allow visitors to ‘play the building’: for instance, wind caused by a small airpump causes conduit pipes to resonate and create flute-like tones.

The nice thing is, says David Byrne, that professional keyboard players will have no advantage over laymen. The experience of playing will be completely new to everyone. The installation suggests everybody can compose with their everyday surroundings, be it their apartment or their car. “I’m not advocating a kind of “Wiki” world of culture” says Byrne, “but I guess I am advocating less separation between the producers (writers, musicians, dancers, singers) and cultural consumers. (…) I like exploring the idea that pretty much anyone can be a writer, artis or musician if they want to. It’s essential to me that this piece is to be played by people of all ages and abilities. Artists, musicians, kids and grandmas.It’s not art or music that is presented to you, played by experts for you to simply consume.There’s nothing to consume – you have to make it yourself.”

This is a nice way of talking about co-discovery, co-creation, co-design and so on. In particular the idea that when you create a completely new way of playing, or creating in general, there is no longer an advantage for the expert over the layman. This resonates with the approaches we take when organising co-creation workshops, or when we involve clients in our fieldwork. Bringing people outside their ‘expert-zone’ lets them see things in a new way, similar to how the visitors of “Playing the Building” are learning to carefully listen to the sounds of the Roundhouse.

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