On North Rampart Street near the Industrial Canal, in a not-so-former metal fabrication warehouse, artists turned thousands of square feet into a music workshop. The New Orleans Airlift's Music Box — the ambitious musical architecture and art and music project that sprouted from a lot in Bywater in 2011 and has popped up in New Orleans City Park and around the U.S. — will open its permanent home and workshop this month.
Next to the warehouse is the "forest" village itself, an interactive art installation filled with pieces of musical architecture — playable houses, essentially — acting as an interactive music venue and host to performance art pieces and events.
"It's a pretty dreamy location," says New Orleans Airlift Director Delaney Martin. "We feel really blessed to be here and working there."
In 2011, Airlift organizers and artists built the foundation of the Music Box on Piety Street, where the Shantytown Sound Laboratory opened as a sort of jungle gym for experimental sounds, with Quintron, Thurston Moore, Andrew W.K. and many other artists participating in "orchestras" conducted among playground structures built as miniature, musical houses — creaky piano floorboards, theremin wind machines, bathtub bass, subterranean subwoofers and endless percussion.
Last year's Roving Village installation at City Park introduced the structures (and some new ones) to open spaces. But Airlift always planned to bring the Music Box to a permanent home, finally opening this fall. The warehouse was sold virtually as is, and its cranes, welding tools, piles of steel, industrial hole punchers and even a truck from the previous MetFab business now are used to help build musical superstructures for the Music Box fleet. Its inaugural lineup's diverse range of performances offers glimpses of the Music Box's capabilities.
"Now that we're permanent," Martin says. "We can try all sorts of different programming."
"Christening the space," Martin says, is an intimate performance from TV on the Radio's Kyp Malone with Okolona Is Adriana and Erin Durant at 7 p.m. Friday, Oct. 28. Tickets are $8.
On Monday, Oct. 31, guerilla theater artists Crunch Town present Nightmare on Grunch Street! A Haunting of the Music Box, a "living" play with an immersive, interactive performance based on the legend of the grunch, a sort of Louisiana-centric chupacabra swamp monster. There's trick-or-treating from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. followed by The Live Monster Musical House Band at 7 p.m. Tickets are $13 general admission; $8 for children under 12.
For its grand opening performances (6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Friday-Saturday, Nov. 4-5), the Music Box hosts New Orleans artist Bruce "Sunpie" Barnes, who leads a "tour of Creole diaspora" music alongside L'Union Creole with Dede Saint-Prix and Seguenon Kone. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door.
Tank and the Bangas performs Friday and Saturday, Nov. 18-19, and Lost Bayou Ramblers and Rickie Lee Jones and Spider Stacy perform Friday and Saturday, Dec. 2-3.
In tandem with the 100th anniversary of the Dada movement, theatrical gypsy-punk rock band Gogol Bordello will use the Music Box to celebrate Dadaism on Friday and Saturday, Dec. 9-10. Bandleader Eugene Hutz encourages attendees to wear Dada-themed costumes. "He decided our houses have a surrealism to them," Martin says. "It speaks to his world strongly."
Public hours typically are noon-5 p.m. Thursday through Sunday when there are no performances. Check the schedule for opening hours.