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Altar'd State

Airlift Transforms Church for Nels Cline & Rob Cambre

St. Maurice Church in the Lower Ninth Ward has recently undergone a strange transformation. The formerly abandoned space is now home to Taylor Shepherd’s “Altarpiece” in anticipation of an upcoming Space Rites segment featuring a performance with Nels Cline of Wilco and local guitarist Rob Cambre. The altar installation is made of about 30 or so analog televisions donated by Goodwill and rewired to interpret sound. Saturday’s show marks Airlift’s second concert in collaboration with Creative Alliance of New Orleans (CANO), who now manages the property and has linked up with Prospect 3 to expose the charm of the church to the community.  


The interior still looks somewhat vacant giving it a heightened ethereal quality. 


“It’s really about the space,” said Shepherd, Taylor, lead Sound Technician for Airlift and a big part of the Music Box project, which anticipates coming back in full force to New Orleans next spring. 


 “They deconsecrated it after the storm. This has just remained more or less empty. CANO and Jean Nathan of Creative Alliance invited us to come and do something with the space. And I pitched this sort of minimalist installation.” 


Minimal not only describes the altarpiece, but the church itself. The simplicity and bareness is a powerful sight. The stark interior tells a story of the past. Even though it was deconsecrated, the Reverend Charles Duplessis contends it’s still a holy place. 


Shepherd walked up to the altar and began whistling in various pitches to show how the screens respond to sound. The installation is complete with different sized televisions that produce vertical copies of sound waves. 


“I got this donation from goodwill of like hundreds of televisions. Each one of these are analog televisions opened up and rewired and given an audio signal.”


His original idea was brought to life in the first event of the Space Rites series. “It was a choir from a senior center and a choir of art hippie white kids. They did this thing together.”  


The Lower 9th Ward Senior Center Choir started their performance in front of the altarpiece of TV screens and Murmurations Choir surprised everybody from the orchestra upstairs. They came together and performed three songs, symbolically acknowledging an osmosis of cultures taking place in the Lower Ninth area as droves of people move to New Orleans and mix with native residents.


“We’re at this weird moment here in this neighborhood. The old and the new are coming. It’s all happening right now. It’s changing terribly fast. It’s changing, maybe not necessarily for the better, or for the worse in a lot of cases. But it’s changing and I feel like this is sort of an acknowledgement of that. Everybody is totally united by this one thing… and it’s music.”


While Taylor admires the music Nels Cline and is excited for his performance with Rob Cambre, he says the project is really about acknowledging the community, who has been having regular church services in the space with Shepherd’s unique altar installation accompanying their voices. 


“These people… All those ladies were so cool, and so feisty, and so into it and so full of life and spirit. It’s just letting them be.” 


The space is an acoustic haven. The capacity is capped at 300, and they’re expecting Saturday’s show to be a full house. Tickets are $10 at the door. If you can’t make it out to Nels Cline and Rob Cambre’s performance, check out Airlift’s website for subsequent shows in the Space Rites series for an opportunity to check out the historic church. 

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