New Orleans: Shantytown Soundings at The Music Box


Dithyrambalina will look like a house, but sound like a musical instrument. A growing group of local and national sound artists are experimenting with interactive instruments that can be built into its walls and floorboards allowing visitors and musicians to bring the house to life through their touch. In 2011 they debuted prototypes in a temporary installation called THE MUSIC BOX, A Shantytown Sound Laboratory, and now look to build the first five structures.

a sonic shantytown

The shanties were erected with materials salvaged from an 18th-century Creole cottage that collapsed on the site in 2009—everything from mahogany paneling to rattraps. Photo: Chris Granger in “Smithsonian”

Dithyrambalina and THE MUSIC BOX: A Shantytown Sound Laboratory


The Music Box is an experiment in musical architecture. It is a New Orleans Airlift production created by artist and curator Delaney Martin in collaboration with 25 artists, including the international street art star Swoon. This interactive installation features a collection of purpose-built shacks and miniature houses, each containing an instrument or having instruments built into its structure. The wooden shacks that make up this “shanty-town” are constructed from salvaged materials reclaimed from a late-18th-century Creole cottage that collapsed on the site several years ago.

Dithyrambalina will be a sonic playground, performance venue and laboratory for musical architecture in New Orleans. Help fund the dream, click here!

Housing a slew of unconventional and inventive instruments, The Music Box offered its visitors a blank canvas to create music in an entirely new way. Quintron, the musician and local hero, conducted a series of legendary concerts at the shantytown that featured a changing roster of world-class musicians such as Mannie Fresh, Hamid Drake, James Singleton, Dicky Landry, Helen Gillet, Andrew W.K. and Jim White. The instruments of The Music Box were also put to test in recordings sessions and pop-up performances by amazing and diverse musicians including Thurston Moore, longtime Swoon collaborators Dark Dark Dark, the sample-based band Javelin, the Brooklyn pop punk duo Japanther, and noise heroes Black Dice. Quintron returned for a final Shantytown Orchestra performance on June 8th and 9th 2012.

William Widmer of Thurston Moore, Dithyrambalina

Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth performed at the Music Box. The Music Box, a “shantytown sound laboratory.” Photo By William Widmer.

From Jamie Katz in “Smithsonian Magazine”: The new instruments inside are Rube Goldberg contraptions that bring to mind the  ingenuity of Southern jug bands. There’s a twisting staircase that pumps out  tones from organ parts retrieved from a church flooded during Hurricane Katrina;  a giant stand-up bass with a weed-whacker line for a string and a bathtub for a  resonator; a tall, weather-vane–like structure hooked up to an analog  synthesizer. “It reacts to rain, sunlight and wind velocity and uses those  variables to modulate an ever-present, droning E major chord,” explains its  inventor, Quintron, a New Orleans musician who conducts Music Box performances.  The concerts attract hundreds who wait in line for a chance to sit in a small  set of bleachers.

Video by Tungsten Monkey.

The Music Box has closed to the public, but New Orleans Airlift, Music Box artists and Swoon are already hard at work on the next phase of the project, Dithyrambalina. They are moving ahead with plans to build a permanent musical house for the city of New Orleans.

Photo above by William Widmer of Thurston Moore of Sonic Youth performing at The Music Box.

Shantytown Orchestra Conducted by Quintron Ensemble: Helen Gillet, Rat Bastard, Walk McClements, Jayme Kalal, Skuli Sverisson, Janne Saslaw, Mark Bingham, Ratty Scurvics, Simon Berz, Rusty Lazer, Weasel Walter
The Singing House, built by Quintron
Nightingale House, built by Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels Noise Floor: Ranjit Bhatnagar Echo Wall: Patty O’Connor
River House, built by Eliza Zeitlin Built-in Auto Harp and Bathtub Bass: Ross Harmon Percussion Lair: Ratty Scurvics Rocking Chair: Simon Berz
Control Tower and Bridge: Aaron Kellner Voxmurum: Taylor Lee Shepherd
Pendopo at the End of the Universe, built by Aaron Taylor Kuffner
Water-Organ, built by Jayme Kalal
Glass House: built by Elizabeth Shannon & Micah Learned Tinntinnabulation Station: Angeliska Polachek & Colin McIntyre Rattlewoofer: Delaney Martin
Lookout Tower Drone Organ: Benjamin Mortimer
Heartbeat House, built by Serra Victoria Bothwell Fels Thumber and Doppler: Rainger Pinney & Jonah Emerson Bell

Dithyrambalina + Wheat Pastes: Swoon Still Lifes: Elizabeth Shannon Fences: Mankh Smith

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About The Outpost regularly posts articles, photo essays, features, and documentaries from around the web that illuminate the challenges to coexistence between city and wild, developed and developing, human and other. To reach out, write to jack (dot) eidt (at) wilderutopia (dot) com. Follow us on Twitter @WilderUtopia