News / USA

In New Orleans, Even the Walls Sing

It's called the Music Box, but it is not a box at all. It's a tiny village. A collection of tiny wooden huts sits on a quiet street in New Orleans, making music all day and all night.

Built into the wall of a small wooden shack is a computer that records sounds ready to be played back. Artist Taylor Lee Shepherd explains his creation.

"What I was playing you earlier is just my voice and then looped over and then you can go back and play it through," said Shepherd.  "It's very versatile. You can put anything into that mixer and sample whatever you want. My idea is that it's kind of a choir and you're summoning the voices behind your walls."

Shepherd's instrument is housed in a tiny shantytown built on a residential street in New Orleans.

An 18th-century cottage once stood on the land. When that cottage fell apart artists moved in to make use of the old wood.

In its place now stands a collection of small shacks that are either musical instruments or contain musical instruments.

Hundreds of visitors from the city and beyond have visited the Music Box and played the instruments.

In one hut, visitors play household items such as plastic bags and paint buckets, which double as a drum set.

"It wasn't just like conventional drumming with the drums right in front of you," noted Renee who was visiting from New York City.  "It was all around you, so there was sound happening everywhere around you and all at the same time. Going on with everyone else playing around in the Music Box, and then you trying to focus on being the loudest sound so everyone can hear what you are playing."

Josh Fast made music climbing a spiral staircase.

"It was pretty wild," said Fast.  "As you walk up these stairs, circle, cylinder staircase there [are] different foot pedals to press and it would make different sounds and different tones at different lengths, and you had to be mobile and moving around to keep the rhythm or keep the music going."

Delaney Martin is the project's curator. She says the 23 artists who worked on the Music Box wanted to bring life to the rundown properties of New Orleans. The Gulf Coast city is one of the oldest communities in the U.S., and it is famed as a center for jazz and other American music forms.

"In New Orleans, we have this really old housing stock and it's really creaky and the wind whistles through and there are all these ambient sounds and then we have musicians who are all living in these houses within walls and you are always hearing your neighbor playing their music, singing their songs," said Martin.  "And I just think of all the cities in America, I think a musical house in New Orleans is the most appropriate."

The Music Box is a temporary structure. Delaney plans to take down the shanty town and build a musical house in its place.

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