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Drip: The Music of Water in New Orleans

New Orleans is a Delta City, but the water is almost invisible. Water simultaneously sustains and threatens New Orleans, but its power, meaning, and vital infrastructure are unknown to most residents. Drip reveals the mystery of water in New Orleans slowly, through just one sense: the sound of water. Between river and lake, life depends upon a delicate balance between culture, economy, and natural systems. Will we hide from our water? Or will we listen?

Drip was a sound and light installation produced in 2010 for DesCours, the annual art and architecture event sponsored by AIA New Orleans that highlights little used and rarely visited spaces around the city. Drip was created in collaboration with Andy Sternad, inspired by our water management research under the auspices of Dutch Dialogues, combined with a shared fascination with the music and sounds of New Orleans. A version of Drip was exhibited at the Contemporary Arts Center of New Orleans for three months in the summer of 2011.

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Drip is a symphony of sounds of water and water-related activities recorded around New Orleans. Sound and light emanate through a fabric enclosure suspended from the ceiling of a prominent but unused space at the Union Passenger Terminal. Visitors can walk around, under, and through the complex shape, listening to Drip while the installation also listens to them. Sound-sensitive LEDs react to both the field recordings and sounds made by visitors, creating an environment that varies constantly between serene and chaotic. Sometimes the lights flicker for a single dripping faucet, and other times they flash wildly when a steamboat whistle punctuates a bustling oyster bar, a drawbridge in motion, and splashes in a swimming pool.

While Drip is site-specific and composed of the sounds of New Orleans, the basic themes at play can be broadly applied. Issues of water infrastructure, ecological restoration, management of finite resources, and social justice related to disparities in access to potable water are increasingly important all over the world. Drip is a step toward a public dialogue – and ultimately solutions – for these common challenges. is a catalogue of recordings, photos, and other media related to the designers’ audio-based search for New Orleans’ hidden water.

The Drip book is available for purchase or free download here.