I arrived at 1337 H St. NE a few minutes late on Friday, and I was pretty sure I wouldn’t get in. Spots to see Bluebrain‘s latest conceptual project, “Living House,” filled up pretty soon after it was first announced. I apologized to the clipboard-wielding guardian at the door, and I was lucky enough to nab an extra spot in the next 15-minute time slot. After waiting with a few other visitors who were equally unsure of what to expect, we got the go-ahead to enter this newest arts space on H Street.
It was dark and foggy, much like a haunted house, and the greeter handed me a flashlight. The lens was covered in a greenish substance that softened and colored the beam, which helped retain the space’s nebulous atmosphere. We could walk through any room we liked, as long as the door was open, the greeter told us. That’s when the music started.
There were about 10 speakers placed throughout the two-story space, and they were all pumping electronic sounds. At times, it was the kind of music you might expect from Bluebrain. Local names like Laughing Man, Volta Bureau, AAA, and others contributed sound, but it was hard to discern any specific signature behind what was often simply odd sounds played at uneven intervals. The impressive element was, of course, that the speakers were all simultaneously playing slightly different interlocking parts of a larger piece. Consider The Flaming Lips‘ Zaireeka project with more elements to sync up, and without as many actual songs. (Or, perhaps, consider Bluebrain’s previous boombox projects, which were conceptually similar to “Living House” but also, well, mobile.)
Walking through the exhibit was enticing enough, as it’s always exciting to see what’s in the next room of a strange, empty house, but the best perspective came from taking a break. A few chairs and couches were spread throughout the house, and lounging in one spot for a few minutes offered a more dissectable, 360-degree experience. In one minute, thuds traveled from room to room in quick succession, and in another, alternating notes hocketed throughout the house, like in a Dirty Projectors song. Ambiance came together and fell apart, punctuated by cerebral experiments ping-ponging through the air.
There were no grandiose revelations inside “Living House,” no climactic epiphanies, but when the crowd filtered out, no one seemed disappointed. It was an uncommon moment of creative immersion. Every attendee was fully enveloped in the installation and had to reckon with the artistic ambitions behind it. Winning that kind of attention for something so odd on a Friday night is an achievement in itself, and it certainly left the crowd with something to talk about on the way to the pie shop next door.