GOOD

Bringing Musical Architecture to New Orleans

In New Orleans, each street has its own set of sounds that define its identity. In fact, each street has its own visual language. Many people say that walking down the street in the city is like listening to jazz, with unexpected riffs of sights and a regular beat of doors and windows. This was the inspiration for the Dithyrambalina project I developed in 2009 with Delaney Martin, Jay Pennington, and Taylor Shepard. What if a house was an instrument? This was the simple idea that grew into The Music Box, our prototype village of musical houses on Piety St. in New Orleans.

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With New Orleans Airlift, I made this model of a musical house, based on my experience in New Orleans. New Orleans Airlift and more than 25 artists then made this installation to explore the idea of what a musical house could be. It was an amazing experience where every neighbor helped build with all of our collaborators. This came about partly because we had so many artists collaborating on the design and build of this project. People saw artists coming and going, and just came by to peek inside the fence, and were drawn into this unique little world.

We held education days where local school brought buses filled with kids to explore on our sonic playground and learn how to play these strange, invented instruments. We believed that these collaborations with kids, neighbors, and artists were one strategy to dispose of the notion that art is exclusive or distant from people’s everyday realities.

In the end, after seven months, this proof-of-concept installation hosted 15,000+ visitors of all age-ranges and socio-economic backgrounds, held education workshops for 500+ students, and was performed on by 100 musicians for seven sold-out concerts. As NPR said, “High concept and nontraditional as it may be, The Music Box has found a place in the long history of New Orleans music.”

Now, we are working towards building Dithyrambalina, a campus of musical architecture dedicated to shared community experiences, outstanding performances, artistic innovation, and alternative education workshops based in a model of fiscal sustainability. We believe that this campus must grow organically, so we are building the first five musical houses this year in partnership with five unique organizations. Each organization brings something different to the table. For example, I am designing and building a house with the New Orleans Master Crafts Guild, an organization that brings together some of the master craftsmen whose families have been building in New Orleans for generations. I’m so excited to work with Darryl Reeves, a blacksmith, and Jeff Poree, a plasterer, to develop ideas that are deeply rooted in New Orleans history.

If this story moves you in any way, I would love it if you would support this project.

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  • Donate to this project here at any level. We have some amazing gifts from yours truly as well as Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth, Mannie Fresh of Cash Money Records, and Andrew W.K., who needs no introduction. Ranjit Bhatanagar offers a DIY invented instrument kit, Serra Fels has some beautiful prints, and Lindsay Karty will make you your very own Music Box instrument.
  • Let your friends know that you care about this project. Here are our Facebook and Twitter pages. Like us, follow us, and then spread the word!
  • Contribute creatively. We need architects, designers, and volunteers. Contact us at info@neworleansairlift.org to collaborate! Click here to say you'll do it.
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This project is part of GOOD's series Push for Good—our guide to crowdsourcing creative progress.

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