This is a story about boxes — the good things you can put into them and the great things that come from the people who think outside of them.
In this instance, the literal box is The Juke Box, an interactive art installation in Menil Park that's not yet a week old. The concept is simple: leave a mixtape/CD and take one to discover and help others discover new music. Jacob Calle is the work's creator and the thinker whose artistic interests are varied and have earned him a reputation as one of the city’s creatives to follow.
Calle is a writer, comedian, visual artist and sometime musician. The thread that binds those interests together is music, he says, so it made sense to make it the focal point of his newest work. By honing in on mixtapes, he knew from experience he was tapping into something people have deep personal feelings about.
“The Juke Box has been up since last Thursday, and I've been to it twice since then and have already seen two different cycles of music, so it's definitely being used by the Montrose community,” he says. “Music is a strong bonding experience, and I would always make my past girlfriend mixes. Music was a part of our relationship and existence. The songs would give a physiological response to emotion that made us happy. She was my best friend and I am happy for that, but those same songs are now just nostalgic notes with [a] complete opposite meaning.”
Participating in Calle's project is a thrilling experience that begins before you ever see the box itself. The mix we created was filled with largely unknown and criminally underappreciated acts from here and elsewhere, bands like Arizona’s Coed Pageant, Baltimore’s Matt Pless and locals like Bigg Fatts and the Jones Family Singers. By the time you arrive to leave your mix, you almost expect music to blare from the box when you open it up. The mix we took was a thoughtful, well-curated blend of love songs from artists like Adele, John Legend and Lily Allen.
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The early response — culled directly from Calle's Facebook page — has been enthusiastic. "I'm about to have so much fun with this," wrote one follower. Some noticed the Nirvana-cum-Sex Pistols design. One person wrote, "Here's hoping it lasts longer than Hitchbot."
For Calle, there was never a question about where to install The Juke Box.
“The Menil Park is widely accepted by people who want to picnic with wine, bookworms, folks who say 'Namaste' on the reg and musicians," he says. "These are the people that would appreciate The Juke Box and make it a civil duty to participate in the project every time they visit Menil Park. There was no other decision for the location.”
Calle is also part-owner of the Come and Take It Comedy Fest, which brought The Whitest Kids U Know and Maria Bamford to town in its inaugural run. He’s a member of The Secret Group, the booking collective behind events like Pete Holmes’s approaching September 11 show here and this November’s Houston Whatever Fest, which wonderfully brings excellent music acts (Ghostland Observatory, Metric, GWAR) and exciting comics (T.J. Miller, Doug Benson) to Houston. That work has allowed Calle to get to know some local acts, but not as many as he'd like.
“I don't think any one person can discover all of the Houston bands in this large, vast city," he admits. "Each individual has only scraped the clouds. No one has yet traveled to space. I once thought I knew, but that's just the Montrose scene. I was wrong.
“In my mind, Nirvana will always be bigger than The Beatles," Calle asserts. "The definition of the word ‘nirvana’ is pleasure, and that fits perfectly to what punk rock means. It's Heaven. I traveled to Seattle to give myself a Nirvana tour. I went to Kurt's house and the bridge where he hung out which inspired him to write ‘Something in the Way.’ So many people from all over the world would spill their love and appreciation to Nirvana on the concrete and benches by scratching words onto them. With The Secret Group in mind, I painted Bart nude as the Nevermind baby underneath the bridge.
“Once I discovered punk rock, I got into F.Y.P., Blatz, Bikini Kill, Crimpshrine and Fugazi," he continues. " Bands like these and Nirvana gave every junior high kid the notion that they could pick up a guitar and start a band, and I thank punk rock for that, to create bands such as Muhammad Ali and Fat Tony who are two of my favorite local acts.”
“I've always quirked around in music, but to a small extent,” he continues. The last band I was in was called Fucking Thief with the boys from By The End of Tonight, but I've always been a writer.”
Calle’s newest, biggest projects focus on the real issue of animal conservation and the surreal plight of dying zombies.
"I am prepping for my trip to Africa to live with pygmies and the Surma tribe for a month while documenting Africa's most endangered wildlife. From gorillas with the population of less than 900 to the Northern White Rhino, who are down to less than five. I am going to speak with doctors and scientists to discuss the plight of the animals of the Sixth Extinction and bring back my documents to create a movie to educate America on how we can conserve wildlife just by altering our ways of life, such as columbite-tantalite. It's an ingredient in cellphones which is responsible for miners to clear-cut fields in order to have easy access to the product. At that, gorillas are now having a food shortage supply and losing their home. This is why we must recycle old cell phones properly. In my movie, I will discuss this amongst the plan to harvest rhino sperm along with the eggs, so they can be fertilized and implanted into a subspecies of rhino.
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"Besides all that, I'm writing a comedy screenplay about a group of friends who help their zombie friend complete his bucket list before he dies or the government discovers him. As of now, I am looking for potential filmmakers to help turn this into a movie."
Calle says it’s been nice to see people bond over the music in The Juke Box. Houston’s a giving city when it comes to the arts, he’s noticed, so he hopes this project will enjoy some longevity.
“This installment works a lot like street art," says Calle. "Once it's finished, it belongs to the city. I don't own it anymore. I can't become upset if it's vandalized or stolen. I must expect that going into this form of art and not try to inspire someone to be someone, because that's just silly. I'll use the box and share mixes, but I am through with this chapter and onto the next, for I'll be painting a life-size time machine DeLorean on the side of a building.”