Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Playing the Roundhouse

In a certain spirit of seeing what the fuss is about, on Monday the 24th, we made our way to The Roundhouse in Camden to look in on David Byrne's "Playing the Building" installation. For those who haven't heard, this consists of an old pump organ console, gutted and wired up to assorted noise-making arrangements around the (currently largely empty) Roundhouse building - along with a sign on the floor saying "please play". Being British, visitors queue up to tinker with the keyboard for a few minutes each, producing assorted clangs, buzzes, and whistling noises from all around the structure.

If nothing else, it was a fine excuse to appreciate the structure of the building, which is a great old bit of Victorian industrial architecture, re-purposed to good effect in the late 20th century. Byrne's installation turns it into a whistling and clattering void, but it's not so vast or so empty as to be intimidating. The circle of cast-iron pillars supporting the part-glazed roof divide and define the space, and the other visitors - of whom there were plenty when we were there, but not a crowd - create the feeling of an amiable public event.

But if part of the point of this project was the democratization of creativity, well, I think it backfired slightly. Everyone who played with the keyboard - ourselves included - had great fun, but a few places ahead of us in the queue was someone who clearly had a decent grasp of musical technique, and who, with a little thought, turned the installation into a real working instrument. (It wasn't discernibly tuned, but it had at least as much structure as a full drum kit.) This display of deftness and competence earned him a brief round of applause from other people. Apparently, there were evenings when people were invited to bring their own instruments and jam with the building; if whoever nabbed the keyboard at these was skilled enough, the effect may well have been something seriously interesting and pleasing to the ear.


And then, afterwards, we wandered down into Camden, thinking to catch the tube - but, finding a bridge, we realised that we'd come to the Regents Canal, and we could stroll for half a mile along its banks to reach Regents Park. It was a reminder that London is huge, and contains much that merits visiting that I've always missed.

No comments: