Perched atop the Queen Elizabeth Hotel above the River Thames in London, sits a riverboat. And in this riverboat is "A Room for London," a one-bedroom installation doubling as a hotel observatory—correction, a completely booked hotel observatory—and a studio where noted creatives have been invited to use the unique space as inspiration to produce new work.
One of those creatives was David Byrne, who produced a multi-platform work called "Get It Away." The musician/artist/general renaissance man spent three days in February recording the din of London’s bustling streets, picking up an amalgam of somber cathedral organs, piercing jackhammers, hurried footsteps, a sonorous fruit vendor, clattering trains, crashing river waves, and one adamant Evangelical. Allowing such a random collection of sounds to dictate rhythm of the track, Byrne found London’s tempo throbs at 122.86 beats per minute, producing a mellow, almost reggae-like groove and also a homespun music video, both of which having the collective feel of some surreal David Lynch scene.
Byrne’s contribution to the body of work being produced throughout the year is certainly at home among those of other distinguished talents.
"A Room for London"'s residency projects, "A London Address" for writers and "Sounds from a Room" for musicians, have been pulling in the likes of Andrew Bird, Imogen Heap, Juan Gabriel Vásquez, and Michael Ondaatje a month at a time since January, streaming and broadcasting their creations to the masses. Artists have also been invited to imagine a work in the digital space that’s influenced by the age of nautical broadcasting. Although "A Room for London" is booked solid for the general public, the opportunity to win a night in the coveted chamber is still up for grabs with "Ideas for London," a competition in association with the Evening Standard that asks Londoners to submit new concepts to improve the city.
The space in which such brilliance is expected to spark was built by the social enterprise for modern structures Living Architecture and designed by David Kohn Architects in collaboration with artist Fiona Banner. If the rust-colored riverboat seems vaguely familiar, it was inspired by the Roi des Belges, the boat author Joseph Conrad helmed in 1890 through the Congo River, subsequently penning Heart of Darkness based on his travels.
The London project isn’t the first time Byrne has experimented with the sounds of spaces. In 2008, he turned an abandoned building, New York’s Battery Maritime Terminal, into a giant, creaking musical instrument in an installation called "Playing The Building."