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Christopher Janney

A sound architect's latest projects debut with musical fanfare at Miami's Art Basel festivities

by Karen Day
on 16 November 2011
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Artist Christopher Janney merges jazz and architecture with a rare balance of logic and imagination, describing his unique method as "painting with sound." The trained composer is concerned with providing an emotional element to physical structures—to Janney, buildings are "urban musical instruments," and over the past three decades he has built up an impressive array of site-specific works, from public installations in Miami to an 8,000-square-foot home in Kona according to the "cosmological principles and rhythms of Hawaii."

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Janney's pedigree boasts a degree in architecture from Princeton and a Masters in Environmental Art from MIT, but he maintains a southern charm reminiscent, in a way, of Bill Clinton when he describes his work as "a gas" and discusses musical tastes from Motown to Zappa. He dissects pieces of Mozart with the ease of a genius composer, but takes a leap from conventional musical expression by visualizing the notes as multi-colored glass installations that refract light in delirious, fantastical ways. In the recently published retrospective book on his work, Janney comments, "I am interested in creating a hyperreality—a place where a person is still aware of being in his normal environment, but elements of it have been heightened or altered—to invite a more interesting daily experience, as well as to push against the idea of urban alienation."


One of Janney's most well-known projects to date is his 1995 installation at the Miami International Airport, a cornucopia of colored glass that lined the windows of the 180-foot moving walkway. Dubbed "Harmonic Runway," the large-scale work was unfortunately removed due to new safety regulations following September 11, 2001.

Now, Janney has created a new light and sound installation at MIA that heralds the vibrant spirit found in Runway but packs an even bigger punch by using the innovative Vanceva glass system. "Harmonic Convergence" will project to travelers passing through a palette of more than 150 transparent colors alongside sounds recorded in Florida Everglades and on ocean SCUBA dives. The density of the sound score fluctuates in accordance to pedestrian activity, which is tracked via two video cameras installed in the ceiling. Topping off the experience is the rap of a short drum beat every hour to mark the time.


The permanent installation, "Harmonic Convergence" is ready to view in Miami, where you can also check out an exhibition highlighting Janney's three main areas of focus—"Urban Musical Instruments," "Physical Music" and "Performance Architecture." Taking the same name as his new book, "Architecture of Air," the showcase will also be on view during Art Basel (29 November - 4 December 2011) at the Moore Building in the Miami Design District. Those in town for the art extravaganza will not want to miss his concert on 2 December at 9pm, where Janney will perform with The Persuasions in a show called “Disembodied Instruments (Dance Version).”

As a guy who still marvels, "Wow, I made that?" Janney is a driving force in advancing technology and experimenting with the way we react to the world around us, surprising even himself from time to time.

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