- Associated Press - Monday, March 30, 2015

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - An angler wandering the bank of a lagoon on the eastern edge of City Park paused between casts to shout, “What are you building?”

Delaney Martin, mastermind of the five whimsical, tiny buildings sprouting up on the park’s former golf course, called back that it was a place for concerts. She hoped he would visit when it was finished and promised that the construction wouldn’t compromise the fishing.

The tiny buildings could easily be mistaken for Hobbit houses, but actually are one-of-a-kind musical instruments. When finished, they’ll sing, bong, whirr and chime in a charmingly unkempt symphony. The collection is called “The Music Box Roving Village: City Park.”

Since she arrived in New Orleans in 2009, Martin, who was born in Honolulu and grew up in Los Angeles, has been a stalwart of the Crescent City art scene. Her collaboration “The Music Box: A Shantytown Sound Laboratory,” drew continuous sell-out crowds to its thrumming, clattering concerts on Piety Street and received rave notices from the national press.

Made from recycled lumber and flood debris, “The Music Box” was a beacon of New Orleans post-2005 recovery period. It symbolized the possibility that beauty could emerge from the wreckage of the storm and flood, the possibilities of collaboration, and hope for a new New Orleans; different, more deliberate, but still funky at heart.

The Music Box wouldn’t have been possible without the inspiration and labor of dozens of artists from near and far, but Martin was always at the organizational center. Likewise, in City Park, she is the nervous system of the construction. Martin, who studied film at the University of Southern California, said she sees herself in the role of cinema-style director of the project. The arts organization she leads is called “New Orleans Airlift.”

Martin asked that the growing installation not be photographed until finished. She didn’t mind detail shots but is hoping for dramatic “reveal” on opening night.

Many of the artists who contributed sound-producing sculpture to the original “Music Box” are at work in City Park. Using a metal saw, Ross Harmon trimmed steel fence posts to precise lengths to produce an industrial strength wind chime. Another of his wind chimes, made from a salvaged brass fire pole and hotrod tire rims, rang gorgeously when struck with the handle of a screwdriver.

Andrew Schrock, curly hair hanging below his shoulders, used an electric screw gun to assemble a wooden pathway that winds amid the little houses. He also built the tallest and most elegantly shaped of the five constructions, in partnership with a German artist named Klass Hubner.

The two-story sculpture, which Schrock calls “Chateau Poulet,” produces eerily wonderful sounds through an ingenious blend of spinning ceiling fans and loosely wound plastic plumbing pipe. Imagine the voices of tattooed angels emerging from a castle tower.

Electro-mechanical maestro Taylor Shepherd tinkered with the mechanism that would lift and lower the clapboards on the wall of a miniature house for clattering percussion. Shepherd’s hand is everywhere in the Music Box, from the donated synthesizers deep inside a sheet metal shack known as the “Resonant Memory” to the telephone pole erected in the center of the “village” to hold power lines aloft.

The original “Music Box” was demolished but hopes for a continuation of the project persisted. The celebrated, Brooklyn-based street artist known as Swoon, who has been a Music Box mainstay from the beginning, built a model for a rambling permanent Music Box. But a consulting architect estimated it would cost about $11 million. The model was shelved, for the time being anyway. Martin calls it a “cardboard fantasy.”

A more practical plan was to make a series of portable “Music Boxes” that could be gathered from time to time in different parts of the city or even taken to distant states.

“We said, ‘We can make it one house at a time and grow like a real village,” Martin said.

Swoon contributed the charming copper filigree on the musical iron kiosk by New Orleans ironsmith Darryl Reeves.

City Park is the first stop of an inaugural series of performances for the new “Music Box.” The “Roving Village” will be reassembled in some form in Central City in the fall, then later in the Lower Ninth Ward, Martin said. The architectural sculptures are made to be packed and unpacked for travel like carnival rides, as one of the artists put it.

The Helis Foundation philanthropy paid for the new “Music Box” project, though Martin would not reveal the amount of the gift. She said that the management of City Park readily agreed to the placement of the temporary attraction on its periphery, even providing an ad hoc parking lot in a nearby field.

The original Music Box concerts were packed with shoulder-to-shoulder crowds.

Martin estimates that more than 350 people will be able to attend each concert, given the space and the hand-built seating. But she said she can’t be sure of the exact capacity until the first show.


Information from: The Times-Picayune, https://www.nola.com

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