Thursday, September 30, 2010

David Byrne Does Detroit

David Byrne at the Future of Music Conference in 2006. (Photo: Fred von Lohman, Creative Commons Attribution 2.0)
Former Talking Heads frontman (and current Cindy Sherman boyfriend) David Byrne was in Detroit last week working on a film being directed by Paolo Sorrentino. Byrne's blog entry describing his experiences in the D "Don't Forget the Motor City" is well worth checking out. In contrast to some of the recent reporting on the city's arts scene, Byrne really did his homework. He gives some excellent history, makes some pretty astute comments on contemporary politics and culture, and posts some really nice pictures, many of which he took. My favorite shot is the one of pheasants grazing on an empty lot near downtown. Another striking image is a Google Maps download showing a piece of the city grid with the infrastructure pretty much intact but with the cleared sites where buildings once stood mostly reverted to open field.

One thing that helps give Byrne's post the detail that others have lacked is something anthropologist Clifford Geertz calls "thick description," a field research technique that stresses not only observable activity but context as well. Byrne was here for the better part of a week and spent a good bit of time tooling around the city using what's become a major mode of transportation here, a bike. (An avid cycling advocate, Byrne's recent book Bicycle Diaries is just out in paperback.) He took in the city in slo-mo working from a street-level view. He was one of some 3200 people who took part in Tour De Troit last Saturday.

One of Byrne's projects for Sorrentino's film was an installation of his piece Playing the Building, which in this case used the old Michigan Theater to capture atmospheric and architectural vibrations and convert them into ambient music by hooking up sound feeds from various parts of the structure into a keyboard apparatus. While it bears obvious reference to the work of avant-garde composers like Karlheinz Stockhausen and John Cage as channeled through Brian Eno, Playing the Building has a site-specific aspect and musical genealogy that is strictly Byrne. Click here to download a free podcast from iTunes of Byrne's TED Talk on the influence of architecture on music.

No comments:

Post a Comment