LACMA as Musical Instrument


Buildings, of course, have acoustic properties. But what about acoustic potential? Musician and recent high school graduate Ben Meyers has carved himself a niche by using buildings and their various surfaces and surroundings as musical elements. His most recent performance: a song performed with his mallets and drumsticks on Renzo Piano’s new Resnick Pavilion at LACMA, which opens to the public early next month. A video of the piece, called Playing LACMA, was commissioned by the museum. “No one takes a second during the day and thinks of all the sounds that can be coming from their surroundings. Things that just seem so lifeless and things that you’re around every day,” Meyers said.

The sounds he found at the Resnick include melodic tones from travertine tiles on the wall, booming lows from the building’s oversized metal ventilation structures, and some surprisingly hollow sounds from various palm trees on site. With about 11 or 12 tracks of audio and video recorded on site, Meyers pulled everything together into the two-and-a-half minute video. Meyers performed, shot and edited it himself. He composed the piece before seeing the building in person, memorizing the song’s rhythms on the plane ride to L.A. Once on site, however, the sounds he found didn’t exactly line up with what he had in mind during composition.

“I was kind of a lost dog in the beginning, hitting things that just sounded completely dead. It was a lot of trial and error,” Meyers said.

Meyers gathered some Internet fame this spring for his music video “Empty School,” using various surfaces and objects at his Maryland high school as instruments in a song. The folks at the LACMA liked it, and asked Meyers to come out to interpret the Resnick. Meyers rrecently started his first year at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he hopes to study music production and engineering. He also wants to continue his architecture-based musical explorations. The school’s older buildings, he says, have a lot of potential.

“There’s some pretty cool ringing, interesting sounding metal beams and all sorts of stuff,” Meyers said. “I’ve been getting ideas here already.”

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