Arts and Culture

Visitors to the Forecastle Festival in Louisville last weekend may have noticed a unique installation—a recording booth for making impromptu tapes. 

It’s called Nave, like the center of a church. The booth is shrouded in a white tent, near a side stage. Trixie Whitley’s playing outside, but in here, the muted music could be your parents’ stereo leaking down into your basement sanctuary. Artist Jacob Heustis designed the space to feel intimate and familiar, like the spare rooms he hung out in as a kid.

“We used to squeeze in a full band, and kids would come crowding in and hang out during practice,” says Heustis, who also plays bass for the band Wax Fang.  

Carpet squares stapled to the wall offer some soundproofing. There’s half of a sagging couch, a gargoyle on the table next to an ashtray.

“I definitely wanted it to feel very lived in, so you felt transported from the environment you were in outside, so you feel like you are possibly in someone’s basement, which feels the furthest place from a festival,” he says.

Here’s how it works: you take a blank tape from the door attendant and step inside, where a guitar, a toy piano and other instruments await.

“We got a little Casio. A tambourine. A shaker, in case you want to get Cuban,” says Heustis. “I laid off the bongos.”  

There’s a double-decked portable radio–what we used to call a boom box–and a smaller tape recorder, which Heustis calls “kind of noisy, but it's still old-school, like the original first portable General Electric cassette recorder.”

After you record, you label the tape–give it a name–and leave it with the attendant. The tapes will be digitized and archived online, so you can share your song or remain anonymous.

“There’s no pressure either when you’re just like, whatever, you’re just making a tape,” says Heustis.

Heustis dreamed up Nave with singer EMA for a gallery exhibit at Land of Tomorrow about the intersection of art and music. They wanted to capture the experience of making music on the fly, without the safety of digital tools and professional studios, to explore the power of “that immediacy, and the low-fidelity quality, and how that is really important to a recording and to the vibe,” says Heustis.

Unlike everything else at a music fest, Nave asks the audience to create rather than  consume. It’s invitational and participatory, almost revolutionary for the setting.

“I know that I’ve been super inspired at live shows,” he says. “And to think that, yeah, you might walk away from that set totally reeling and come across this nook and lay down a track.”

Forecastle is Nave's first music festival, but the plan is for the booth to tour the country next year. As Nave tours, the online archive, which Heustis says will be live soon, will grow.