Maritime Art Week – David Byrne’s "Playing the Building"

Since there are some cool contemporary maritime influenced art projects currently on exhibit across the globe, we’ve declared this Maritime Art Week and we’ll take a peak at a few.

One of my all time favorite bands was the Talking Heads and long after they broke up, I’ve followed the music, art and activities of front man David Byrne who’s latest project is an installation in the beautiful Beaux Arts Maritime Building in New York City.


From David Byrne’s website where there’s also a good interview about the project.

Playing the building is a sound installation in which the infrastructure, the physical plant of the building, is converted into a giant musical instrument. Devices are attached to the building structure — to the metal beams and pillars, the heating pipes, the water pipes — and are used to make these things produce sound. The activations are of three types: wind, vibration, striking. The devices do not produce sound themselves, but they cause the building elements to vibrate, resonate and oscillate so that the building itself becomes a very large musical instrument.

Here’s short BBC news report on the project followed by an interesting YouTube video:


“Playing the Building” is sponsored by Creative Time an arts organization that does some amazing stuff. From their website:

Creative Time presents the most innovative art in the public realm. From our base in New York, we work with artists who ignite the imagination and explore ideas that shape society. We initiate a dynamic conversation among artists, sites, and audiences, in projects that enliven public spaces with free and powerful expression.

Here’s a video slide show of some of Creative Time’s past projects.

My favorite Creative Time project was Art in the Anchorage (1983) which was installed "inside the cavernous space of the Brooklyn Bridge’s massive stone foundation. In 1983, to celebrate the centennial anniversary of the bridge, Art in the Anchorage (1983–2001) inaugurated an annual series of exhibitions. The first year ten artists were commissioned to create new works addressing the “vivid historical and visual qualities of the Anchorage,” including the barrel vaulted ceilings and massive masonry piers housing the bridge’s cables." (link)

It’s great to see that art can bring life to a beautiful old maritime building, one that harbors so many memories and stories about New York’s rich maritime heritage.

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Peter A. Mello

Father, son. Lifelong mariner, student of leadership, photographer. Professional creative placemaker.

2 thoughts on “Maritime Art Week – David Byrne’s "Playing the Building"”

  1. Respected sir,

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    Life at sea

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