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Review: David Byrne's 'Playing The Building at the Roundhouse'. Words by Josh Knowles

I enter the auditorium to witness a humble, old-fashioned organ sitting at the centre of a large light airy space. What first strikes me is how unusual it is to see the familiar space of The Roundhouse without the bombast of controlled lighting; spotlights and blackouts etc… Any drama is immediately pulled away from the space in this alone. From the organ stems a system of rubber tubing and pneumatic piston type cables, which run high up into the rafters. They attach into the building and deliver the organs notes to play into the various elements of it's structure. The scene resembles some kind of long neglected chapel of a very specific kind of church, or Dr. Frankenstein's lab (the two being a parallel I've no doubt Mary had intended to draw in the 'man-god-nature' triptych balancing act of her story). It's pleasing in it's juxtapositions of scientific and aesthetic, seeming antiquated yet industrially modern, grandiose and domestic all at the same time. This is lucky because, apart from enjoying the object in situ, as an exhibition the only element one can truly engage with is to sit down and play the thing, which I did. I can only assume that the cat strangling cacophony of the efforts of other players before and after me, sounded as sweet to their own ears, as mine to did to me. They are not many available notes on the keyboard, and therefore it is difficult to string any kind of melody together at all.

It is fun to try though, especially with someone else. My friend George and I made a mawkish attempt to duet in front of an audience of five; she piped and rumbled- I clanged and parped. Eventually I was forced to boo my own clumsy efforts off in shame. George however somehow sustained full dignity and possibly even took a bow as she walked away. In my minds eye I saw flowers thrown in her pathway to the bar.

After spending time in the 'building-as-instrument' space one can appreciate the sensation of the all encompassing acoustic as an idea, but like the severe limits of the instruments range, the music of PTB also brings to mind the limits of it's experience. For a an interactive/communal type work it is a very individual focused action, and this I think is a problem for anything which claims to be an event of this kind. Ultimately PTB is a solo show, where the soloist failed to show up. But don't feel bad David - we still love you and we'd love to hear you play it the way you imagined it heard anytime! I recommend going to PTB when one can play it with other instruments; the jam session every Thursday should be a lot of fun… I may go along and give it one more try...

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