Lonnie Holley, Kyp Malone and more perform with a new sound sculpture at the Music Box Village on March 11 and 12 | Events
Artist and musician Lonnie Holley has been to New Orleans several times. Over the past few decades, he has been invited to assemble works from materials found after Hurricane Katrina and to present a suite of pieces involving broken and discarded instruments as part of Prospect.3, the edition 2014 of the city’s international art triennial. Before the pandemic, he started work on a new episode at Music Box Village, and this week — after a pandemic delay — he’s here to officially pitch and perform using the musical sculpture.
Titled “The Sound of Freedom in Captivity,” the interactive piece was created in collaboration with Davis Hart of Pulp Arts in Florida and features input from New Orleans artist Dawn DeDeaux. The artwork has been on display for months and features a large eagle with outstretched wings, with cutouts in the flat image.
“There are cutouts of a tree growing, talking about our roots, our very existence,” Holley told Gambit. “I always talk about me as an artist and my parents and great-grandparents and whoever was brought in and taken into captivity, and we had to work to achieve that kind of freedom, but often we don’t. we never arrived. A lot of our songs – through the pages of history – all the songs were about a little freedom.
The eagle is housed in an open cage, and visitors can enter the cage and touch the eagle to activate sounds or use microphones to add their own voice.
“It makes me sing, it makes me moan, it makes me whistle,” Holley says.
The Music Box Village opened its show season on March 5 and Holley’s shows on Friday March 11 and Saturday March 12 highlight a busy season of art and music. Holley will be joined by Kyp Malone, best known for his work with the band TV on the Radio, and jazz drummer Michael Avery, who will lead the ensemble, along with Spirit McIntyre, Emily Mikesell and Justin Peake. The group familiarize themselves with the musical architecture of the Music Box and develop the performance under the direction of Holley this week. Holley will also improvise some of the lyrical content for the shows.
The first time Holley came to New Orleans, he was 9 years old and had run away from Alabama. His young life in Alabama was anything but stable, as he was the seventh of 27 children of a poor family living in the remnants of Jim Crow. He says he was taken in by a burlesque dancer when he was only a few years old, then lived in a juke joint, or whiskey house. He says at least these environments exposed him to music. He was sent home from New Orleans and later incarcerated at the Alabama Industrial School for Negro Children, where he was forced to pick cotton. A parent rescued him from the facility when he was 14.
Holley held many jobs before breaking into the art world, which led to her carving sandstone headstones for a niece and nephew who died in a fire. This inspired him to do more stone carvings. Much of her work is abstract, and her interest in found objects is steeped in the notion of recovering or recontextualizing their meanings.
Ten years ago, at the age of 63, Holley released “Just Before Music”, the first in a series of albums. He has an open approach to exploring the connection between art and music, and he has worked with many musicians, often singing and incorporating the sounds of found objects. In an early collaboration, “On the Other Side of the Pulpit”, Holley sang a kind of gritty blues and added keyboards and percussion from found metal objects while being accompanied by Black Lips guitarist Cole Alexander and Bradford Cox of Deerhunter and the solo project Atlas Sound.
The performance at the Music Box will be Malone’s first time collaborating with Holley, but he is a fan of Holley’s art and music. He describes Holley’s success as a kind of chemistry.
“Artists, musicians – one of the things we should be doing, and one of the things Lonnie is very good at, is showcasing alternatives,” Malone says. “If you look at the poetry of his music and have to explain what he’s talking about – escaping slave ships and waking up to a ‘Fucked Up America’, there’s more room inside that poetry, I believe, to understand America’s history and the contemporary American landscape… Take something that people have a hard time dealing with, like the truth of American history, and don’t sugarcoat it, but there’s something in his mind that builds beauty from the ugly truth.
Lonnie Holley performs at 8 p.m. Friday, March 11 and Saturday, March 12 at Music Box Village. Tickets $25 through musicboxvillage.com.
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