Former ‘Talking Head’ turns factory into instrument

Via Reuters

By Stephen Brown

When musician David Byrne says he is going to "play a factory" in Stockholm, he is not planning a gig at a trendy new venue, but talking literally.

The founder of the band "Talking Heads" has turned a disused paint factory by the Stockholm waterside into a giant musical instrument, constructed around an old wooden pump organ with its entrails ripped out and replaced with wires and pipes.

"The public can just come in and sit down and play what they like," he told Reuters this weekend while the installation at "Färgfabriken" ("The Paint Factory") was being set up.

"Playing the Building" is not a Byrne concert but a hands-on art installation that runs until mid-November.

The organ's keys and stops are linked to dozens of clear plastic tubes that pump air through the factory vents to make a range of whistle noises, bang hammers that clank against hollow iron pillars and start four engines ranged on the roof.

The resulting cacophony is deafening and the factory, which dates from 1889 and once produced guns, combine harvesters and more recently paint, briefly sounds like it has been granted a new lease of industrial life.

"It's a very democratic instrument, everyone is reduced to the same amateur level," said Byrne.

The Scottish-born lead singer and guitarist of "Talking Heads," whose hits included "Psycho Killer" and "Burning Down the House" before they broke up in 1991, wanted this to be a more "hands-on" experience than most installation art.

"A lot of the time people think the art world is pulling their leg, that there's an elite crowd that understands what is going on but that the general public is not in on the joke," he said. "In this case I think they don't feel intimidated."

An elderly couple who wandered in off the street in the Stockholm suburb of Liljeholmen to see what all the noise was about were treated to a personal demonstration by Byrne.

"They had smiles on their faces when they left," he said.

Alongside a solo music career, best-known for partnerships with musicians from around the world from outside the Anglophone mainstream, such as Brazil's Caetano Veloso, Byrne has ventured into the visual arts with photography shows and installations.

In 2004 he put on "The Voting Booth Project" incorporating 60 discarded voting machines from the discredited Florida poll in the 2000 presidential election won by George Bush. [Note: DB participated in this group show as one of the contributors, not as the curator. —Ed.]

Now 53, Byrne is trying his hand at design, making chairs out of an old filing cabinet or a large-scale molecule model. [Note: The chairs are not made out of recycled materials but are custom fabricated. —Ed.] He publishes an online journal at and shares his favorite music with his fans on the online "Radio David Byrne."

"I've managed to wangle it so that I can do a lot of things I can enjoy," he said. "Not all of them generate income for me."

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