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Music Box Village’s newest addition showcases voices of the deaf community

For many people who can hear, the elevator is a quiet, awkward space. But the elevator is a big part of deaf culture where people can be as loud as they want.

by Mary Staes
May 22, 2019

The newest addition to the Bywater’s Music Box Village gives members of the Deaf community the chance to show the rest of the world how they experience sound.

“Elevator Pitch” is a new structure in the collective village of tiny houses that double as instruments.

Photo by Matthew Hinton

“People often say Deaf culture is quiet and that idea is gross,” said sound artist Christine Sun Kim. “We’re really loud people. I want people to leave and get a little taste of our culture. Our culture is full of sound.”

Sun Kim collaborated with New Orleans Airlift and musician Rick Snow to create the elevator structure. Buttons you can press (like floor buttons in an elevator) will feature the voices of 13 people of the local Deaf community.

The term “Elevator Pitch” takes on totally new meanings in the new space. For many people who can hear, the elevator is a quiet, awkward space. But Sun Kim explained the elevator is a big part of Deaf culture and is instead place where people like her can be as loud as they want.

“For Deaf people, they love that,” she said. “They scream, they love the vibration and the volume. So, I really want to flip it around.”

Members of New Orleans Airlift, which is an artist-driven initiative, helped lead the recording sessions for those whose voices are featured in the house.

“I’m a singer,” said Leah Hennessy, Producer at New Orleans Airlift. “So it’s been fascinating for me as someone who has thought a lot about how my voice works and how much it is connected to my ear, to shift my thinking through this process, and to learn more about vocalizations from our Deaf participants, some of whom have no idea how their voice sounds. Our team learned so many things about Deaf culture, and different types of sign language.”

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Hennessy said the addition of the elevator serves multiple purposes. As the village expands, new parts of structures are filling up a second floor of the venue. The elevator will serve as a way to get performers that floor faster. But, the structure also serves as a way to be more inclusive to people who experience sound in different ways.

“New Orleans is such a sonic landscape; it’s really rich in detail,” Hennessy said. “I think by opening our doors to the Deaf community we can learn more about sound. Sound can be perceived just through the feeling of vibrations. Sound can be represented through lights. There are many ways that we could be changing what we do here to be more inclusive. We’re still a fairly young site, and a fairly young organization, as we continue to grow we’re attempting to be more inclusive.”

Photo by Matthew Hinton

The addition is also being presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center as part of their Year of Music.

“Over the last couple of years, since knowing Christine, it’s helped me appreciate sound so much better,” said Adriel Luis, a curator at the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center. “In some ways, when you can just hear sound, you don’t have to think about it any more after you hear it. But Christine’s work is about the fact that there’s so much more to sound and music when you have to think about it in other ways besides what just comes into the ears.”

New Orleans as a whole puts sound and music center stage.

“I think that New Orleans is a place where even without hearing the music you taste it, you feel it, you get the vibe from people, you see it in all the visuals,” Luis said. “For Christine, as a sound artist to come here, I thought was just a really perfect match. Especially coming into the Music Box Village where people don’t just come here to close their eyes and hear, right? It’s a multi-sensory experience, so we thought we could add some complexity to that multi-sensory experience with this perspective.”

The Music Box Village is open to the public on weekends. “Elevator Pitch” will also be featured in the weekend performance of Teddy’s Twilight Serenade, the last feature of Music Box Village’s performance season. Click here for ticket information.

The Music Box Village
Getting there
4557 N Rampart St, New Orleans, LA 70117, USA

Mary Staes is Digital Content Lead for Very Local. She works with our freelancers and crafts content for our social media platforms and website. Before Very Local, she worked with CBS affiliate WWL-TV as a web producer and weekend assignment editor for about 4 years. She has also handled broadcast coverage for 160 Marine Reserve training facilities while she served as an active duty Marine. As a native New Orleanian, she takes being "very local" to heart. She loves being intertwined with the culture and figuring out how there are less than two degrees of separation between us all, whether...

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