Start Making Music

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David Byrne with his Playing the Building installation. Photo: Jonathan Birch

Ever fancied playing a musical instrument the size of a house? How about one the size of Camden’s Roundhouse? Well, now you can.

From tomorrow a new installation created by musical maverick David Byrne, Playing the Building, will be open to the public to play with.  It’s yet another example of participatory events happening in London this summer.

Byrne, probably best known as the Talking Heads frontman, showed off his creation today in a press preview. The instrument looks like musical version of a Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory machine – an old pump organ sprouting with coloured wires that are attached to the building’s rather beautiful Victorian poles and girders.

In keeping with the steampunk aesthetic, it’s entirely mechanical, with Byrne noting the instrument could as easily have been produced 150 years ago as today. It produces sounds using a system of air pressure and sonar magnets to tap, whistle and vibrate through the Roundhouse’s  pillars and posts. The result is a range of flute-like whistles and xylophone-style pings.

“You can’t play Bach on it,” Byrne notes, but that’s not the idea. People are encouraged to wander through the space, have a tinkle, experiment and enjoy the ambience of the building and the sounds produced.

The Roundhouse is hosting several jam sessions and events where you can play your own music along with the building – book tickets and find out more from the Roundhouse website.

It only costs a fiver to enter, unless you go on Mondays when it’s “pay what you can”. If you do go, please tell us about your experience by commenting on this post.


  1. jose adams says:

    I can’t wait to see and hear this. David Byrne is one of the most creative musicians of his generation as well as an accomplished visual artist. Eg his NYC bike racks – wish we could get some in London.