Louisiana art is spicy and sweet. The music is mysterious and soulful. Drift away from the Bourbon Street ruckus, and you’ll discover a place where even the buildings join in the chorus.
What happens when you combine the essence of Louisiana art, music, and architecture? A shanty town that sings, of course.
Dithyrambalina (dith-ee-ramb-a-lina) is a magical community installation that you probably won’t find in a lot of the typical New Orleans travel guides. A collaborative project involving 25 different artists, Dithyrambalina is a New Orleans Airlift project initiated by artist, curator and Airlift Director Delaney Martin, the Brooklyn-based visual artist Swoon, and New Orleans-based sound artist Taylor Lee Shepherd.
Built up from the ruins of a late 18th Century Creole Cottage, Dithyrambalina is a village of musical, playable houses. That’s right. The structures themselves are recycled musical instruments, ready to express the joy, pain, or wonder of anyone who cares to take the time to play them.
“Invented instruments embedded into the walls, ceilings, and floors of Dithyrambalina’s architecture will support boundary-breaking musical performances and inspire wonder, exploration and invention in visitors of all ages,” explains the official website.
The village started out with only one musical building, appropriately called The Music Box: A Shantytown Sound Laboratory. Built from the salvaged remains of the 250-year-old house, the Music Box contained a plethora of musical instruments that seem like they fell out of a Dr. Seuss story:
Singing House: a harmonic drone synthesizer that allows the weather to join in the music-making. Wind speed, sun position, moonlight, rainfall, and lightning all make small changes to an ever-present E major chord. A special amplification system delivers a true “surround sound” experience.
Water-Organ: a device that allows the sound of a keyboard to be played through water. The sound “is produced by mingling sound and air in a sealed box and pushing the air (with the sound in it) down through pipes, past valves, through water, and then out into the air, where the sound is then amplified. The pipes and water act as the throat of the instrument, shaping the sound as it passes through the water, achieving a “watery sound” that has a very distinct emotional quality to it.”
Rocking Chair: a thumping bass instrument made from an old rocking chair. “Even the smallest movement is audible, the creaking of the wood evoking images of old haunted houses while the strings attached can be played through an old radio. Whoever gets into the chair can dive into a world of sound, balance and vibration.”
(Listen to field recordings of each of the instruments here.)
With such amazing ambiance and potential for musical experimentation, it’s no wonder that Dithyrambalina has attracted performances of some well-known professional musicians, including Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth), Japanther, and the Tiajuana-based Nortec Collective.