The boat that rocks is ready for a unique gig

The likes of David Byrne and Andrew Bird are playing at an extraordinary London venue. By Elisa Bray

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The Independent Online

Sometime in the past few years it became perfectly normal to watch rock and pop gigs in a church, on a boat, or in converted Turkish baths. Such settings create a different way of experiencing the music, adding ambience and heightening the sense of occasion and often the acoustics – an ethereal quality lent to the performance by the cavernous dimensions of a church or the creaking of old timber shunted by waves.

With this in mind, in conjunction with the Southbank Centre, the arts organisation Artangel is hosting "bedroom gigs" by musicians including the former Talking Heads frontman David Byrne and Andrew Bird. Except it's not just any bedroom, it's a one-bedroom architectural installation in the shape of a small boat, perched on top of the Queen Elizabeth Hall. This temporary new venue will be home to a series of live "bedroom gigs" over the next 12 months.

First up, on Saturday afternoon, was Bird. Of his acceptance to play such an unusual gig, before his sold-out Barbican show and the release of his album Break It Yourself, in March, the Chicago-based multi-instrumentalist said: "I have this history of playing non-traditional venues: former bank lobbies, Odd Fellows Halls and a few boats, but nothing quite like a boat stranded in the heart of London. Seems like my kind of thing."

With the striking view of London's skyline and the Thames and the intimate surroundings of the boat for inspiration, the selected musicians taking part in Sounds from a Room are invited to use A Room for London as their studio, drawing "from its position as a unique window of London" to perform a different kind of show.

Nobody will actually be attending the gigs – fans will have to watch the shows broadcast on to screens at the Southbank Centre, or online at as it's streamed live. A step too far in the attempt to create original gig experiences? That would depend on how the artists choose to make use of the space – but none will simply be strumming a few favourites.

Michael Morris, Artangel co-director and curator/producer of the programme, says: "We wanted to encourage the musicians rather than playing just another gig, to do something out of the ordinary. We were looking for people who could be inspired by the space to shape what they did there. I don't think any of the 12 will use the room in the same way – or that's the hope. Everyone is preparing something that they've not done before."

What the gigs present, aside from an opportunity to see artists perform in an intimate setting, is the potential to shed new light on their music – and inspire new music – which can only be a good thing.

Imogen Heap, picked for her innovative approach to songwriting, which is seeing her release each song from her upcoming album as she writes it, inspired by her travels around the world, will be writing and performing album track No 7 while in residence on 22 June. Byrne, who appears in February, says: "I suspect there'll be room to react to the boat itself and the surroundings – so there'll be some improvising." Also improvising will be visual artist and musician Laurie Anderson, who is said to be creating and performing a new sound piece.

The German composer Heiner Goebbels will produce a musical response to Joseph Conrad's 1890 journal Up River Book, joined by Senegalese Griots Sira and Boubakar Djebaté on vocals and kora, Xavier Garcia on electronics, and the actor André Wilms. We don't know what to expect from husband-and-wife duos Wildbirds & Peacedrums and Amadou & Mariam, in April and May respectively. But the unexpected is what makes these shows something to look forward to.