A pile of various stereo speakers accumulated overnight outside of Sugar Park Tavern in Bywater, presumably in tribute to 43-year-old New Orleans native Keith Moore and his invention, the Jambox Pyramid. Moore died last week. He was known for collecting and painting discarded boomboxes, which he then wired together to form glitching, hissing mountains. The Jambox Pyramid is but one artistic pursuit for which Moore wanted to be known and remembered. He was perhaps the most unique and driven artist I've ever known. Art was all he wanted.
As evidenced by his chosen DJ name, "Deacon Johnson," Keith idolized his famous father, New Orleans musician "Deacon" John Moore. Keith grew up in New Orleans, and moved to New York in 1986 to make a name for himself. He settled into the bohemian scene below Manhattan's East Village in Alphabet City, where he joined an alternative art and political scene, squatting in abandoned buildings in protest of capitalist tyranny. During this time, Moore helped produce a wild concert series in Tompkins Square Park, DJ'd at clubs and completed an excellent unpublished non-fiction novel, Cultural Necrophilia. He also pursued unconventional and confrontational visual art and music.
He finally returned to New Orleans in 2000, produced 2002's Industrial Strength exhibit at Big Top gallery and participated in NOMA's Underexposed photography show. Local photographer Jonathan Traviesa recalls, "Underexposed was mostly like old men's quaint pictures of birds, portraits, things like that. And Keith shows up in full toxic waste gear and a gasmask, with flashing lights and this giant digital image he took of 9/11 chaos."
In 2004, I met him at a birthday party where, though he hadn't been invited, Keith constructed his own T-shirt booth, blew an airhorn over the bands and commandeered the microphone to announce his upcoming all-girl DJ battle, Ambient Wars 2. Two-dozen attendees at his first Ambient Wars concert had voted Deacon Johnson "New Orleans' King of Ambient Noise," a title he took very seriously.
At Ambient Wars 2 -- wherein local DJ Beatgrrrl was coronated Moore's "Ambient Queen" -- a knee-high pile of computer parts topped with a 10-pound sledgehammer loomed outside the Dragon's Den. Keith's original paintings and humming jamboxes littered the stairway. Every corner of the dark main room was crammed with sculptures, broken electronics, pill bottles, black lights, candles and photos from 9/11. Keith taped giant photos and sheets of foil across the floor and sprinkled shards of broken mirror, so that we all walked around crunching glass. Throughout the DJ battle, he dragged more and more junk art up the stairs, and it became evident how intensely committed Deacon Johnson was to the grand New Orleans tradition of working insanely hard to create a high production value without much hope of traditional reward.
As president of Deathhouse Industrial Enterprises, Keith made his living mostly by painting apartments. In 2005, while rolling paint on a ceiling in Uptown --Êas techno music featuring his own echo-drenched voice boomed from a trashed and painted jambox, itself wired to a sputtering short-wave radio and a wave machine generating an overdriven shhhhhhhhhhh -- Deacon Johnson concocted his brainchild, his legacy -- Noizefest. Noizefest 2005 featured more than 40 DJs and experimental soloists and duos, including Quintron, Ratty Scurvics, PotPie, Rob Cambre and Ray Bong among many others. A last-minute venue debacle limited the crowd to about 25 people, and because Noizefest ended up being free to the public, Charity Hospital didn't receive the $10 ticket fee Moore had hoped to collect and donate. But Noizefest succeeded as a beautiful summit, where more than 40 indescribable Louisiana artists got the chance to meet and play music for and with each other. Keith had engineered an important day for Louisiana music.
In the two years since, Keith struggled with illness. As someone who spoke with him almost daily, I believe he suffered the effects on his mind and body. To drown all that out, he continuously made experimental music, paintings, Jambox Pyramids and dead techno jewelry ("electro bling"). And he curated Noizefest. Keith Moore created, planned, discussed, argued and fought over art every single day.
His father Deacon John shared that he had recently received an Arts Council of New Orleans grant for a fleur de lis sculpture he completed, his final accomplishment.
"I'm deeply saddened by the loss," Deacon John says. "I ask that people keep him in their prayers."
The many of us who worked with him won't let his contributions be forgotten.
A memorial service will be held at Charbonnet-Labat Funeral Home (1615 St. Philip St.) at 2 p.m. Saturday, April 21. A Noizefest memorial concert featuring experimental artists will begin at 11:30 a.m. Sunday, May 6th at 609 Lesseps St. The show will feature Keith Moore's art, jewelry and a documentaryÊMoore made about himself.
- Artist and musician Keith Moore created the Jambox Pyramid.