Playing with Buildings and Armory Shows

Stairs, shadows -- SFMOMA
Stairs, shadows at SFMOMA

One of the must-do fun things to do in NYC this summer is visit the Battery Maritime Building where David Byrne has installed an organ that plays the different pieces of an old building. New York Times has a write up with video today.

This reminded me of an episode: My senior year at UCSB, I took part in an “Armory Show” at the SB Armory. I was taking a free-form art class with painter/pianist Dick Dunlap who is probably the sweetest and most soft-spoken professors I ever had. Anyway, he and some friends had invented/built some instruments out of found and new materials and he invited members of this class to play the instruments at a show at the Santa Barbara Armory which is similar to the building where Byrne has his organ in that it’s mostly a giant old room.

I only remember two instruments. The first was the Stringed Tongue Coffin which was a vertical tongue-shaped box with a taut cable strung from the top to a flat sheet of plywood that was attached to the bottom at an angle. By stepping on the plywood you could control the pitch somewhat and play the string by plucking it or with a giant bow made of plumbing hose and wire. I played this instrument as I seemed best at making it loud. (I’m a bass player after all.) The other instrument was the Piano Harp which was stringed guts of a piano bolted to a flat wooden crate. You could either play the strings with mallets or by strumming it like a harp. This was played by my housemate, Craig Dunham. Damn, I wish there was video or even photos of this event. The video of David Byrne’s piece almost brought me all the way back… I just need to remember those other instruments. (Senior moment.)

Unfortunately, I’m going to miss it but this Saturday night to Sunday morning is the Bang on a Can marathon at the World Financial Center. Highly recommended for anyone with even a remote interest in new music.

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