“I’m not suggesting people abandon musical instruments and start playing their cars and apartments, but I do think the reign of music as a commodity made only by professionals might be winding down.” Amidst preparations for his launching of a highly unusual multimedia event, DAVID BYRNE, founder of the Talking Heads was recently talking about his hope for the future of popular music.
The scene is “a paint-peeling hangar of a room, ” the Great Hall of the Battery Maritime Building, once a bustling ferry terminal in lower Manhattan which has been dormant for over half a century. But these days it is alive with the sound of music. No, it is not exactly Rodgers and Hammerstein that you can hear, but a place vibrating with the sounds of rusty steam pipes, ceiling girders, and columns, triggered by a Weaver pump organ retrofitted with relays, wires, and air hoses, all connected to an array of solenoids and such.
This is a site to visit, until August 10, 2008, where anyone can come press those organ keys and play the building. But, more than that, it invites people everywhere into an egalitarian rather than hierarchical world in which, to quote Buddhist American composer John Cage, “Everyone is in the best seat.” Cage was in many ways a walking oymoron, one who refused to acknowledge boundaries and came to see all the world as music. He was prone to such paradoxical aphorisms as “My purpose is to eliminate purpose,” and “I have nothing to say, and am saying it.” He wrote a book with the highly provocative title of Silence. Wrappping up a seminal address to the Music Teachers National Association more than fifty years ago, Cage spoke of the importance of “a purposeless play…an affirmation of life…a way of waking up to the very life we’re living.” He composed a famous (some say infamous) piece of “music” called 4 minutes, 33 seconds, where a performer comes out on stage, sits down at a piano, stopwatch in hand, raises and lowers the lid at various points, but never plays a single note. The audience is asked to wake up to the sounds of the environment in a place where music is conventionally made and become alive to new possibilities.
So go play the pipes in your kitchen, bathroom, or whatever. Have fun as you sing with your environment, tapping into the child within you.