The little house that sat on Coney Island Boardwalk this past weekend has a set of midi triggers on the porch steps like a drum kit, chimes and bass strings on the railings, a wall upstairs made of reclaimed wood to make a marimba, and a series of doorbells with a whole scale of notes. A wooden awning stretches over a porch swing that sits next to a window with grills that work like wooden clappers. This instrument-house is meant to invite people to come and play together and explore what kind of sounds a building could make.
New Orleans Airlift, a nonprofit organization that aims to inspire and foster collaboration through the arts, has created this project, the Music Box Village, to explore the potential of “musical architecture.” The particular initiative that has come to Coney Island, “Porch Life,” is part of a larger collection of thirteen such little houses permanently installed on a 2-acre plot in New Orleans. “Our homes and our neighborhoods can be musical if we think of them that way,” says Leah Hennessy, producer of the Music Box Village. “If you think about our home as being musical, you start finding unconventional instruments everywhere. Porch life plays off the idea of hanging out and playing music on your porch.”
While passersby of all ages test out the different musical limbs of the house, a loop plays in the background, a deep sound that Leah earlier recorded on the front porch guitar-string-railings. This sound is combined with the sounds created by the Weather Warlock, an instrument created by one of the artists at Airlift. Weather Warlock is a weathervane that reads live data, and people playing the house on the beach can use it to dial up the surf or the wind.
Leah says that the presence of background music helps when people are testing out the sounds of the house and playing music, so that they have something to play against. But there is a loop pedal on the porch that anyone can use to create their own loop. “I have no doubt that if I killed this loop right now, something else would emerge,” Leah says. Music Box Village is about being more aware of the music you could make with your living space, but it’s also about doing it together: the organization focuses on creating community.
On Saturday, Porch Life had a performance by January Hunt, a New Orleans based artist who experimented with and played the house, going around it with a mic and seeing what it could do. But people with no musical experience have been came and played around with the house too. “This is unconventional. It’s difficult to become a master on this instrument, so it levels the playing field,” Hennessy says. “Everyone can jump on and make music together. It’s experimental. We just want people to play.”
The piece was on view in Coney Island for August 4th to 5th and will make its way to Washington, D.C. before heading back to New Orleans.
Next, check out 50 NYC Outdoor Art Installations Not to Miss in August 2018