To listen to Sharon Litwin interview Dawn Dedeaux on WWNO public radio, click here.
Dithyrambalina (dith-ee-ram-balina) is not a word that trips lightly off the tongue. Its root lies in Greek mythology; more about that later. In the meantime, try saying it two or three times, because it’s a word that is going to be part of the New Orleans landscape, literally and figuratively. A project of Operation Airlift, a post-Katrina organization started by visual artist Delaney Martin and musician/DJ Jay Pennington, Dithyrambalina is the title of a new roving musical “village” to be created in the spirit of The Music Box, an art structure that went up in Bywater in 2011 and was dismantled in 2012.
The Music Box, described by its curator Delaney Martin in a 2012 New York Times story as a “shantytown-sound laboratory,” was constructed of parts of an ancient collapsed Bywater Creole cottage. Each of the “shantytown” structures was a unique sonic environment embedded with oddly-constructed musical instruments created by a group of more than 20 artists. That entire project was a sort of pilot for Dithyrambalina, a bigger and more ambitious project. Comprised of an entirely new group of structures, it is designed to be finished early next year.
New Orleans visual and multimedia artist Dawn Dedeaux is working on the first of its five new structures. It’s a project Dawn is creating to amplify the ongoing struggles of the Lower Ninth Ward almost a decade after Hurricane Katrina. Like all of the new Dithyrambalina structures, it is being built to be taken apart and re-installed as it moves from neighborhood to neighborhood, beginning in early 2015.
Dawn calls her structure the Can You Hear Me? House. It is being constructed now in the Lower Ninth Ward Village.
“Working with children there and connecting their voices through cans not only gives me the opportunity to get musical sounds, it’s also an opportunity to let these children have a platform to comment about life there,” Dawn explains.
From the beginning, she says, she thought making her structure would be fairly easy.
“I thought a Can House sounded simple, right?” she says wryly. “But then I started doing the math. I need 16 cans per square foot; I need 5,000 cans.”
Now, while Dawn is working her way through that small challenge, she’s up against another one: getting the house ready for a work-in-progress preview scheduled to take place on the first Sunday morning of Jazz Fest. So she could use a little help.
“Please, save your red beans and rice cans; save your corn cans,” she says with a grin. “Bring me your spaghetti. We really do need your cans. You can drop them off at the location of the first Music Box installation, 1029 Piety Street. I’m serious.”
And, she says, she’ll take them full or empty.
Now for that Dithyrambalina word: Its root is the word dithyramb, an ancient Greek choral hymn sung and danced in honor of the wine god, Dionysius. The Encyclopaedia Brittanica describes performances of dithyramb as “grandiose and spectacular.” The description continues: “After a prologue spoken by the group’s leader, two choruses in expensive apparel – one of 50 men and the other of 50 boys – sang and performed circle dances around the altar of Dionysius.”
I doubt that Dawn Dedeaux is looking for two male choruses to celebrate the opening of her Can You Hear Me? House. But she is likely to showcase the sounds of the children she’s working with in the after-school programs of All Souls Church in the Lower Nine, along with those in the Make Music NOLA group. She’s doing all of this with the help of another art colleague, well-known New York-based artist Latham Gaines, an accomplished actor and creator of sound sculpture working primarily with found objects.
Intrigued? Well, you can check it out on your way to Jazz Fest on Sunday morning, April 27, 2014, from 9:30 to 11 a.m. Just go to the Lower9Village, 1001 Charbonnet Street.
For more information about Dithyrambalina go to www.dithyrambalina.com/blog. If you’re still wondering what all this means, check out the video below.