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“The Music Box” in 2011 (all images courtesy New Orleans Airlift unless indicated)

A New Orleans project that started in 2011 as an experiment with musical architecture is planning a return, although this time with roving ramshackle structures that can eventually become a permanent soundscape in the city.

Called Dithyrambalina — a teetering word based on  “dithyramb,” a “chant of wild and abandoned nature sung by the cult of Dionysus to bring forth their god” — the project led by arts organization New Orleans Airlift and artist Swoon began with The Music Box back in 2011. With over 25 artists — including Delaney Martin, Taylor Lee Shepherd, Ranjit Bhatnagar, Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels, Quintron, and Eliza Zeitlin — collaborating on a clustering of small houses that had instruments embedded in their architecture, the sonic results included a tower with pipes from an organ destroyed in Hurricane Katrina that were sounded by walking on the steps, a rocking chair that pulsed bass with its swaying, and a “Singing House” where the weather modulated a harmonic drone synthesizer.

The Music Box in October of 2011 (photograph by Michelle Ettlin/Flickr user)

Playing one of the sound structures at “The Music Box” (photograph by Michelle Ettlin/Flickr user)

Now with a Kickstarter project, New Orleans Airlift, Swoon, and their team of collaborators are aiming to raise $50,000 to turn that small clustering of art shacks based on the remains of a collapsed 150-year-old house into the more permanent Dithyrambalina, an ongoing, continuously evolving village of musical architecture. The proceeds from the Kickstarter would specifically go to supporting the creation of the first five structures of this resurrected vision by next year, with the reuse of discarded materials and an engagement with the community a continuing focus, especially as these modular structures would be built to be portable and roam to various New Orleans neighborhoods and even places outside the city.

“The Music Box” (courtesy New Orleans Airlift)

Yet the ultimate goal is something permanent, to create “a sonic playground, performance venue and laboratory for musical architecture” with partner organizations like the New Orleans Master Crafts Guild, Center for Sustainable Engagement & Development, and Shreveport Regional Arts Council’s UNSCENE! Residency.

“The over 100 artists and musicians we engaged in this project include New Orleans master craftsmen whose families have been working in New Orleans for generations to young city rappers to traditional culture bearers like Mardi Gras Indians, to the 70-year-old Dickie Landry of Lafeyette Louisiana, a member of the original Phillip Glass ensemble,” Delaney Martin, creative director at New Orleans Airlift, told Hyperallergic. Swoon added that “Dithyrambalina is growing from The Music Box experiment in size, but also in its many makers. The five new musical structures being funded with the help of this Kickstarter campaign are being built with our artists and new community partners. Bringing together unusual casts of collaborators is a hallmark of Dithyrambalina.”

The opening of “The Music Box” (courtesy New Orleans Airlift)

Dithyrambalina: Musical Architecture for New Orleans is funding through October 30 on Kickstarter. 

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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...