Music Box Village

The “Syphonium” musical water tower by Devon Brady at the Music Box Village in New Orleans (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)

NEW ORLEANS — This weekend the roving Music Box Village of New Orleans will welcome the public to its first permanent space with two days of performances. The initiative of the nonprofit New Orleans Airlift started back in 2011, and its assemblage of musical architecture, in which every structure is a playable instrument, has evolved into a large-scale experiment in reuse and collaboration. A cacophonous water tower, sonic telephone box, and shack of chimes are a few of the structures with which local musician Quintron and OneBeat, an international group of musicians organized by the US State Department’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, will interact at the sneak preview concerts this Friday and Saturday.

“It will be a medley of past and new installations, and when people come back for the grand opening, it will be totally different,” Delaney Martin, artistic director and cofounder of New Orleans Airlift, told Hyperallergic. “The whole season is going to be rough around the edges.”

The “Syphonium,” for instance, was previously at a Music Box Village pop-up in Tampa Bay and has now been reconstructed by Devon Brady at the new home in New Orleans’s Bywater neighborhood. It features dripping water falling from the tower to a basin, which combines with an electronic instrument intervention to create an interactive current of sound. The Music Box Village has had iterations in Kiev, Tampa Bay, Shreveport, Louisiana, and New Orleans’s City Park, and its forthcoming permanent home will include returning structures alongside new ones. Matthew Ostrowski and Nina Nichols’s “Western Electric,” activated by playing an instrument or singing in a telephone booth, and Ross Harmon and Frank Pahl’s “Bowers Nest,” which has chime columns and “nail violins” on its wooden walls, are joining the “Syphonium” for the previews.

Back in June I visited the site, which is located at the end of Rampart Street, before the train tracks and the Industrial Canal. At that time, New Orleans Airlift had just moved into the former metal fabrication workshop there, and the grove of live oaks and pecans awaited its sonic structures. On returning this past Saturday, the Music Box Village was still very much a work in progress, but three of its installations were already being put in place. The nonprofit’s resident pack of friendly dogs roamed the grounds, while volunteers and staff worked away in the blistering heat. The previews this weekend are just the beginning of the fall programming planned for the village’s first season in the Bywater.

“They’re going to tell the story of the Creole migration from the diaspora to the modern day,” music curator Jay Pennington said of the previews. “It’s going to be a real history lesson, and a musical one at that.” He added that in October, come Halloween, the whole site will become an immersive experience based on the local lore of a swamp monster. “The story will be crafted so that people can walk into it anytime, very much like a haunted village,” Pennington said. The village will close down in December and then reopen in February for Mardi Gras.

With the fence cladding just being completed and the houses of reclaimed wood still finding their foundations, the Music Box Village is indeed still a bit rough. Yet as it evolves throughout its first year, it will always be a new experience, as the unique acoustic architecture develops into a permanent musical destination.

Inside the New Orleans Airlift fabrication workshop

“Western Electric” by Matthew Ostrowski and Nina Nichols

Inside the “Bowers Nest” by Ross Harmon and Frank Pahl

“Bowers Nest” by Ross Harmon and Frank Pahl

Detail of the “Bowers Nest” by Ross Harmon and Frank Pahl

“Western Electric” by Matthew Ostrowski and Nina Nichols

Inside the New Orleans Airlift fabrication workshop

Playing Devon Brady’s “Syphonium” musical water tower at the Music Box Village in New Orleans

The “Syphonium” musical water tower by Devon Brady at the Music Box Village in New Orleans

Quintron and OneBeat will perform on September 30 and October 1 at the Music Box Village (4557 North Rampart Street, Bywater, New Orleans).

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Allison Meier

Allison C. Meier is a former staff writer for Hyperallergic. Originally from Oklahoma, she has been covering visual culture and overlooked history for print...