We’re excited to bring you our first ever guest post! Anna Jursik, of Minneapolis’ Center for Environment and Energy, reviewed David Byrne’s site-specific installation Playing the Building. All photo credit to Mayank Puri.
David Byrne’s Playing the Building, ““a sound installation in which the infrastructure, the physical plant of the building is converted into a giant musical instrument,” strung each key of an organ to a component of Aria in Minneapolis’s Warehouse District.
Instead of striking notes, participants’ fingers activated blowers whistling through pipes, started vibrations in ceiling cross beams, or slammed clappers against the walls. The installation is site-specific: it plays on Aria’s physical structure as a former warehouse and on its history housing experimental theatre. It’s clear that Byrne knows Minneapolis well.
Some friends and I played an acoustic jam session as other musicians contributed their voices and instruments to the installation. A woman sang notes into the gut of the room and said she could feel each resonate with the building and her body. A man carried his cello through each of the rooms, then up the stairs to toss notes from the balcony. A little boy dashed from the bench, chasing the sounds that followed each key he pressed.
I admire Byrne’s urban cycling advocacy, which fits with Minneapolis’ bike-friendly culture. When you’re pedaling in a city packed with other cyclists, you can feel the collective impact on your own health and that of your community. But advances in alternate transportation receive much more media attention than the latest in building science, even though the US building sector is our largest contributor to climate change. Perhaps this is because biking to work feels more manageable than retrofitting the office to reduce its energy consumption.
Most of us understand how climate change will alter the natural environment. It also threatens the buildings we love and the cityscapes and parks we grew up exploring. Playing the Building stresses how buildings contribute to our sense of place, it and hints at the dangers of approaching environmental problem-solving with an overly serious attitude.
Its viewers (myself included!) were joyful, open, and tuned into our connection with the building. The built environment is not outside of our control. We built it, remember? We can fix it. But we’re going to need to use our imaginations and play together nicely.
Personally, I’m interested in skateboarding not from the branding perspective, but from the public space perspective, and the youth perspective: creating spaces for youth, and also opportunites for youth. I feel, as a planner, that you can link a social justice issue to a lot of things, so for me that’s always my angle: how can I work that in? In skateboarding, because you’re working with kids, there’s the very real potential to incorporate that in so many interesting ways, whether through stewardship, participatory planning, charrettes, etc.
It happens by default though; you’re building a park, and even though it’s a branded thing, in the end there’s a public space, which is great.
I look at skateboarding from a youth angle, and I think young people are underrepresented as a whole in so much of public space development, because space is being privatized. A place like Madison Square Park isn’t made for youth to go hang out there, it’s made for people to go to Shake Shack. There’s nothing wrong with that, but that’s an option geared more towards adults. Kids aren’t necessarily looking for nightlife or the restaurant scene.
You can look at skateboarding as a recreational activity, but you can also look at skateboarders as a social group–and should specific spaces really be developed for specific social groups? It’s part of the larger youth question, but also part of the question: why do you need to make segregated spaces for different users? What we were trying to do with the Coleman Oval Skatepark–and to some degree, we’ve been able to do it–is to create an integrated public space where people can interact together.
Q: It seems like, I dunno; Especially in Durham there’s you and Jamie Stewart.
A: Yeah, but we have different opinions of Durham. I think Durham’s the best town in the US. Jamie doesn’t know anything about Durham. He stayed in his house and felt bad that it’s not New York. Whatever. If you don’t avail yourself of the community you’re in, you don’t even know about the community. He knows less about Durham than people who’ve read about it on the internet.
Q: It seems like North Carolina is in the midst of a transition, though.
A: Well, let’s be honest - you and I both live in bubbles. You’re in Asheville and I’m in Durham. But it’s not like Jamie is mad at North Carolina, he’s mad about stuff that he feels; his feelings tend to lay with stuff outside of the triangle. But the reality of the triangle is it’s fucking awesome. It’s a completely amazing place to live. But it is also the case that when the gay marriage amendment came, this state voted overwhelmingly in favor of it.
My whole philosophy is like, if you’re the kind of person who’s like, oh, New York sucks, or wherever sucks, then you’re an idiot. There’s no place that sucks like that. All places are complicated and your reality is dictated by the experiences you choose to have. But that’s a privileged thing to say. Not everyone chooses their experiences.
Like everyone else, I panned the new xx as ‘boring’ and ‘overly minimal.’ I wanted to love it the way I loved the first album, but it was cold and dead. Then, in September, I went back to New York for a few weeks.
I have this very specific New York memory that keeps coming up - I am standing in Times Square, which is the closest approximation to hell that I can think of, with a friend who I had always thought of as exceptional. She was beautiful, gregarious, loud, charming, inspired, inspirational, insane - all the things that make someone an Important Person who People Want to Know.
We are standing in Times Square and she says, “This is the worst moment of my life.” And I ask her why and she says, “Because I have never felt this inconsequential. I never realized how many people there were. People made all of these things,” gesturing to the billboards and the buildings and the pulsating McDonalds marquee. “A million people have walked past this spot today. A million people are going to walk past here tomorrow. What am I even doing here?”
She’s gone to a different city now. Whenever I’m back in New York, I avoid midtown at all costs. I try not to take trains at rush hour. I try not to go out on weekends. But whenever I have to do those things (because getting places and parties and buzzbands and not being a hermit and blah blah blah) I need something to keep me anchored. Like a security blanket, only instead of a blanket, it’s usually a moleskine and a way of breathing and a song.
In September, that song has been “Angels.” It’s quiet and repetitive and insulated enough to be a place to hole up in.
So, thanks xx, for keeping me sane.
By embracing the idea of music as an audiotopia, we are embracing music’s role in what Soja calls “the lifeworld of being creatively located not only in the making of history but also in the construction of human geographies, the social production of space and the restless formation and reformation of geographical landscapes.”
[Foucault’s] heterotopia prophesied Ruth Levitas’s revision of utopian thinking, wherein instead of looking for “maps of the future,” we look for “adequate maps of the present” that can lead to a more just world. To echo a similar revision by Rustom Bharucha, these maps point us to the possible, not the impossible; they lead us not to another world, but back to coping with this one.
Because of music’s ability to do just this - to point us to the possible, to help us remap the world we live in now - and because of its uncanny ability to absorb and meld heterogeneous national, cultural, and historical styles and traditions across space and within place, the possibility of the audiotopia makes sense: sonic spaces of effective urban longings where several sites normally deemed incompatible are brought together, not only in the space of a particular piece of music itself, but in the production of social space and the mapping of geographical space that music makes possible as well.
In a sense, audiotopias can also be understood as identificatory “contact zones,” in that they are both sonic and social spaces where disparate identity-hformations, cultures, and geographies historically kept and mapped separately are allowed to interact with each other as well enter into relationships whose consequences for cultural identification are never predetermined.
Through affectively empowering emotional changes, music promotes the establishment of sustaining relations of community and subculture that are fundamental to the creation of an alternative public realm.
Audiotopia: Music, Race, and America. Josh Kun.
(one nation under vibes)
Joan Didion, via The White Album:
Certain places seem to exist mainly because someone has written about them. Kilimanjaro belongs to Ernest Hemingway. Oxford, Mississippi, belongs to William Faulkner, and one hot July week in Oxford I was moved to spend an afternoon walking the graveyard looking for his stone, a kind of courtesy call on the owner of the property. A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image..
It’s interesting to read this now, because this is a thing that I have always believed, charmed as I am by travel and, often lacking the funds and time, by people’s accounts of it.
But in the last few years I’ve been more compelled by Matador editor David Miller’s pieces which urge fledging travel writers to practice transparency, portray experience as subjective, and look at details on ground level.
Joan Didion was terrified of postmodern subjectivity. For good reason. Life is scary when you have no dominant narrative. Travel is scary when you are a wanderer and not a conquistador.
But I do think this self-aware postmodern approach to travel writing is ultimately good - a way to decolonize these places, to give them back to themselves, to love them still but love them more by freeing them from commodifying rhetoric and leaving no trace when you let them go.