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Wreckage Transformed in Musical Structures

Posted By Prucia Buscell, Thursday, June 14, 2012

In a tiny village built in New Orleans’ storm-ravaged Ninth Ward, every building creates music or contains some playable instrument.

A team of musicians, artists, inventors, and tinkerers used material salvaged from an Eighteenth Century Creole cottage that collapsed in 2009 to build nine small structures where novel sounds are coaxed from unusual configurations of wood, metal and miscellaneous scraps. It’s a performance space called the Music Box. A winding metal staircase pumps out tones from organ parts rescued from a church flooded during Hurricane Katrina. A thatched roof hut houses an elaborate arrangement of Balinese vibraphones. There’s a little glass house containing something that looks like a giant hoopskirt lined with bells and bits of glass. There’s a huge stand-up base with a weed whacker line for a string and a bathtub for a resonator. "A Symphony of Floorboards, Pipes and Stairs," a New York Times story by Campbell Robertson, quotes curator Delaney Martin as calling it "a shantytown sound laboratory.” The Times story says there is an instrument "that evokes the murmur of voices on the other side of a wall,” another that echoes the sounds of passing cars with speakers blaring, and that the whole creation looks like "the stage set for a fairy tale that takes place in a junk yard.”

Martin, an artist, and Jay Pennington, a musician and DJ, founded the New Orleans Airlift, an arts organization. "Rock the House," a story in The Smithsonian, describers a tall weather-vane like structure that is hooked up to an analog synthesizer. Quintron, a New Orleans musician and inventor, who conducts Music Box performances, told The Smithsonian, "It reacts to rain, sunlight and wind velocity, and uses those variables to modulate an ever present droning E major chord.”

Pennington owned the Creole cottage and an adjoining lot where the Music Box is built. The last concert is to be held this weekend. Performing artists have included Mannie Fresh, the New Orleans hip hop producer, and Dickie Landry, cofounder of the Philip Glass Ensemble. The village will then be dismantled and replaced by "Dithyrambalina," a 45 foot high permanent musical house designed by Callie Currie, a Brooklyn based artist known as Swoon. Among other things, Currie is known for creating a flotilla of visually surprising boats that captivated onlookers as they floated down Mississippi, then the Hudson, and then wound up in Venice. Currie and her architect boyfriend designed and helped build a community center in Haiti after the earthquake. Listen to a TED talk in which Currie tells stories of how cognitive dissonance or surprise created by art can open up "the places within ourselves where we can make positive change.” See some great pictures of The Music Box here.

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