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Christopher Janney: Sound & Light, Music & Architecture


by Jerome Weeks 2 Apr 2009

That was part of a soundscape called Parking in Color. Christopher Janney devised it for the 11-story Fort Worth Convention Center Parking Garage, and it’s being unveiled today. Janney creates what he calls “urban musical instruments.” They’re interactive soundscapes

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  • Gaile Robinson’s story on Christopher Janney and Parking in Color for DFW.com

  • KERA radio story:

  • Expanded online story:

That was part of a soundscape called Parking in Color. Christopher Janney devised it for the 11-story Fort Worth Convention Center Parking Garage, and it’s being unveiled today.

Janney creates what he calls “urban musical instruments.” They’re interactive soundscapes. Passersby trigger different musical notes or digital recordings. For the Fort Worth garage, Janney was also involved in designing the structure itself with the project architect, Brent Byers. Janney devised the tall glass banners and the corner towers of colored glass on the outside, which add touches of art deco to the building.

But for the soundscape inside the building and especially inside the elevators, Janney created one of his denser musical scores. He calls it a sound collage, and you’ll never hear the same collage twice. Over the sounds of horses or cows, you’re likely to hear Willie Nelson singing or Dan Rather reporting on Van Cliburn.

JANNEY: “I’m trying to paint you a picture with sound of life in Fort Worth. But I’m also painting a picture of what it’s like out on the plains. You’ll hear the cars honking and the buses and everything anyway. So I’m interested in juxtaposing prairie dogs and the horses and things of this nature — to bring that into the concrete jungle.”

North Texans have actually been hearing Janney’s work for years.This is the sound of Circling, Janney’s interactive, blue-glass maze in Terminal D of the Dallas-Forth Worth Airport.

And this is the sound of David’s Way, a memorial to David Meyerson. It’s a walk-through section on the Katy Trail in Dallas that’s activated when hikers pass.

It’s almost as if our urban environment in North Texas is becoming orchestrated by Christopher Janney.

JANNEY: “Sometimes I’m trying to make architecture more like music, trying to make it more spontaneous, more live. On the other hand, I’m trying to make music more like architecture, where I’m trying to make it more physical, more visual.”

Janney trained as both an architect and a jazz musician. While studying environmental art at MIT in the late ‘70s, he created his first urban musical instrument, called “Soundstair.” People using the stairs trigger different tones from a synthesizer.

JANNEY: “I really began to understand how sound can affect perception of space physically, through the experience, not just theoretically.”

Since then, his Massachusetts company, PhenonemArts, has created projects that have been dubbed audio architecture. His work includes an interactive installation for a pair of elevator towers at Boston’s Logan Aiport. He built a sound and light artwork that transforms the 10-story façade of a parking structure in North Carolina.

Janney’s installations are often in airports, subway stations and parking garages. These are transit hubs, places where people come and go, meet and wait. They’re areas of high stress.

JANNEY: “I’ve learned a lot about what kinds of sounds work well in a public place and what sounds are better left for the stage. So I’m really trying to think about ways not only to create imagery, sound images, but also like an oasis — I’m trying to create things that are stimulating and provocative but also calming.”

  • Ribbon cutting ceremony for Parking in Color, Thursday, 4-5 pm., Fort Worth Convention Center Parking Garage, 1200 Houston. Followed by a reception and gallery talk. Events are free and open to the public.
  • “Architecture of the Air,” an exhibition of Janney’s projects, will be exhibited in the Fort Worth Convention Center Lobby, April 1-4.
  • “The Sounds of Louis Kahn’s Architecture,” a lecture by Christopher Janney on the designer of the Kimbell Art Museum, will be held Friday, April 3, at 6 p.m. The lecture is free.

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