David Byrne Invites You to “Play” a Building

On Monday morning, David Byrne stood beside a petite antique pump organ in the cavernous brick interior of Aria (formerly Theatre de la Jeune Lune) in Minneapolis’s Warehouse District. Narrow blue tubes and yellow wires streamed in all directions from the interior of the organ up into the rafters.

Byrne, sporting a full white pompadour, black jeans, and a tailored plaid blazer, spoke briefly about the “democratization” of music, a “leveling of the playing field.” Then he leaned over the organ and played the keys, triggering clinks, clanks, and flute-like wheezes of air from every corner of the room. The tubes and wires, connected to metal beams, plumbing, electrical conduits, and other exposed elements of the historic building, are not amplified. The “instrument,” which is the building itself, is purely mechanical. “This could have been done a century ago,” said Byrne.

There was no melody, no recognizable musical form—“Nobody’s going to play Bach on this,” Byrne joked. And yet it was music, an effective demonstration of how everything around us is fuel for creativity.

Every day now, through December 4, the public is invited to try it for themselves—to “play the building.” Byrne and a small team of New York sound designers have created this experience, with the same retrofitted pump organ, in just three other cities: New York, Stockholm, and London. Byrne said Twin Citians have the open-mindedness to appreciate the installation: “They’re not surprised by things like this. In fact, they expect it.”

Credit goes to Peter Remes for making it happen. As the founder of First & First, a uniquely artistic development company, he and architect Dean Dovolis have opened Aria as an event space and the Ice House/Vertical Endeavors space and are currently renovating other buildings in the Twin Cities for retail and office spaces, always with an eye toward community engagement. “I create spaces that I’d want to hang out in,” Remes recently told the Mpls-St. Paul Business Journal. “My thinking is, if I want to spend time there, maybe other people want to, too.”

“Playing the Building”
Through December 4
Aria, 105 N. First St., Mpls.
Hours: Sun.–Wed., 12–7 p.m.; Thurs.–Fri., 12–10 p.m.; Sat. 10 a.m.–10 p.m.
Admission: $10 adults, $5 children (Thursday admission is pay-as-you-can)