On several nights in 2011, people lined up in the cold down Piety Street in Bywater in hopes of getting into “The Music Box: A Shantytown Sound Laboratory,” a massive, ramshackle playable structure built from the remains of a collapsed house. Musicians – including New Orleans’ Quintron and the nationally known Andrew W.K. – came to the house and played concerts using the structure’s built-in instruments. The project was created by the group New Orleans Airlift, and part of it was designed by the famous New York street artist Swoon. Since the Music Box project, the U.S. State Department enlisted Airlift to enact a version of the project in Kiev, Ukraine in 2012. And now, Airlift is bringing “kinetic musical structures” to all parts of New Orleans as part of “The Roving Village: City Park presented by The Helis Foundation” that will start on April 3 and feature William Parker, Alex Ebert of the Magnetic Zeros, Quintron and others.

Artist Delaney Martin, co-founder and artistic director of New Orleans Airlift, talks about the project:

What will some of these “kinetic musical structures” be like? These new structures incorporate lessons learned from the original Music Box that pertain to intuitiveness of playing the houses and greater gestural and kinetic movements on the part of the player or the house itself. One of the best examples is Chateau Poulet, by Andrew Shrock and Berlin-based artist Klaas Huebner: their house plays on New Orleans’ ceiling fans. A series of fans actually protrude from the structure itself, and power sounds are generated by hollow tubes attached to the blades. Geared speed controls affect harmonics, and the fans are played by dramatically pulling on ropes in the base of the structure.
What kinds of places might people expect these structures to pop up in? With the Roving Village, we aimed to keep the project in the public eye, but the other real impetus is extending exposure to the project to broader audiences … The Roving Village will start in City Park, a site we chose for its broad city-wide appeal and fundamental beauty, but it will later move to the Lower 9th Ward and Central City. We are excited to work in these culturally rich neighborhoods, not only to show folks what we are up to, but also to make new relationships that can lead to collaborations with artists, inventors and makers. When we go to these neighborhoods, we’re making partnerships with existing nonprofits, churches, youth groups and artist collectives, and we’re coming as guests.
Why is the idea of a “playable house” interesting to Airlift? When Swoon, myself and Taylor Shepherd first landed on the idea of a playable house, it was like a light bulb going off. It made so much sense in the context of a city whose pillars are its unique architecture and music. It would be over a year later at a second line parade watching a bunch of people dancing on roof tops, bus shelters and graveyard tombs, that I would realize that we were hardly inventing anything new. … I would only add that all of the artists we work with are invested in creating wonder out of the familiar – the idea of a playable house really resonates with everyone who encounters our project because they can recognize within it their own experiences of creaking floorboards or the sounds of their neighbor’s singing coming through their walls. We deeply believe in the power of reimagining our world as a place of wonder.