From old theater to musical instrument

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October 22, 2012 // UPDATED 5:48 pm - December 27, 2012
By: Jeremy Zoss
Jeremy Zoss

In 2008, the Theatre de la Jeune Lune closed down, but it didn’t take long for the Warehouse District building to transform into something new. In 2010, the building underwent a metamorphosis to become the event center Aria at the Jeune Lune. 

On Nov. 5, it will undergo its most radical transformation yet, when the entire building will become an instrument. 

The project that will cause the space at 105 N. 1st St. to undergo this next transformation is called “Playing the Building,” a sound installation created by musician David Byrne. Best known as co-founder of the band Talking Heads, Byrne is also an accomplished writer, director and artist, with many works that blend the disciplines. 

“Playing the Building” marries art and music together by attaching devices to hard surfaces in a space such as pipes, conduit, beams and pillars. The devices vibrate, strike or blow on the surfaces and are connected to an organ through long wires. When the organ is played, the devices, according to Byrne’s artist’s statement, “cause the building elements to vibrate, resonate and oscillate so that the building itself becomes a very large musical instrument.” 

“Playing the Building” was first exhibited in Stockholm, Sweden and was later displayed in New York and London. By design, the project creates music that must be experienced live. A recording downloaded from iTunes will not do it justice — you must be present in the space to see how the sounds are created and feel the vibrations around you. The skill of the person playing the organ also makes no difference, as it isn’t scaled like a regular instrument. Of course, each building that houses the project is different, so no two presentations of “Playing the Building” will be alike. 

Minneapolis will become the fourth city to host the project, thanks to Peter Remes, founder of “creative real estate company” First & First. 

“I founded the company in 2010 with the idea of taking properties that had been left for dead and reinventing them or infusing them with new life,” Remes said. “I’m interested in exploring what’s possible with these properties. I try to create enchantment. I try to envision new uses that no one has thought of before.” 

A veteran of Twin Cities real estate, Remes and his company have been the driving force behind several high-profile developments in Minneapolis and throughout the metro area. One such project was the historic Icehouse building at 26th and Nicollet. The rehabbed property now houses climbing company Vertical Endeavors and hot restaurants Eat Street Social and Icehouse. A third restaurant tenant, Azia Market Bar and Restaurant, is scheduled to open in early November. 

First & First is working on another major project in Northeast Minneapolis. At the corner of Broadway and Central avenues, a former mattress factory is in the process of becoming The Broadway, a mixed-use development with a rain garden, 18-foot ceilings, exposed timbers and brick walls. Its anchor tenant will be 612 Brew, a new craft brewery focused on drinkable, low-alcohol beers. Remes said two tech firms and a design firm are also planning to move into the development. 

First & First is also working on reimagining a corporate campus and an old car dealership in St. Paul, as well as additional properties in the North Loop. What shape these projects will take is not yet clear. 

Remes said sometimes the buildings themselves dictate what they become. He purchased the Theatre de la Jeune Lune in 2010 and spent nine months developing a plan for the space, which would ultimately fall through. During that time, multiple wedding parties approached him about renting the space. 

“I’ve always thought that the building should stay open because a lot of people really love it,” Remes said. “I thought let’s let the building be what it wants to be, which is an event center. So I started this company called Aria and started opening it up to the public. The idea wasn’t just to have weddings there, the idea was to infuse arts and culture component into it. So this was part of the idea early on.”

A lifelong David Byrne fan, Remes knew the perfect way to showcase the artistic potential of the Aria space.

“I knew of the “Playing the Building’ project and I knew that it had run very successfully in London, New York, Stockholm,” said Remes. “And I thought wouldn’t it be amazing to do this in Minneapolis? This is the perfect building for it.”

Remes contacted Byrne’s art studio about a year ago. They talked and eventually flew out to look at the space. 

“After a full day of examining all the nooks and crannies of the building, they said this might work,” said Remes. “I sort of knew that they would love it too.” 

Remes has had a chance to get to know Byrne during the planning process and has high praise for the musician and artist. “He’s really an interesting guy,” he said. “He’s a total original. Just changes lanes effortlessly. He’s taken a lot of chances.”

Remes is hopeful the uniqueness of the project will bring out a wide variety of attendees. 

“The idea was really to bring in as many people as possible and bring as many people as possible into the building,” he said. “It’s a really interesting. It really hits a wide bandwidth of people: People who love art, people who love conceptual ideas, people who love David Byrne. No one, including myself, really knows what it’s going to sound like. I’m sure it’s going to be this orchestra of noise. I’m sure John Cage would love it.”