Art to humanise cities: Sonic Forest comes to the UK

This summer, architect/artist/composer Christopher Janney’s Sonic Forest is to be featured at three major UK music festivals.The man who wants to ‘humanise’ cities will bring his urban installation to ‘Download 2006’ June 7-12, ‘Wireless’ June 21-25 and ‘Hyde Park Calling’ from July 1-2.

Sonic Forest, triggered by both public interaction and electronic instruments, is composed of 16 eight-foot tall aluminium poles that contain audio speakers, lights and photo-electric cells. As people move closely by these ‘electronic trees,’ they trigger both melodic and environmental sounds, ‘playing the forest.’ When no-one is moving in the space, the piece generates a series of preprogrammed patterns. With the addition of the drummers, the forest becomes a dance festival unto itself.

‘I feel that cities need humanizing,’ Janney told Architectural Record. ‘ For example, large urban plazas are often designed to respond to adjacent buildings, but rarely consider the pedestrian. In an effort to bring intimacy and human scale back to the plaza, I designed something called Sonic Forest, part of a series of urban musical instruments, a theme that characterizes many of my pieces. It is a series of columns placed on an open plaza to create scale. Sensors, lights, and speakers within each column respond to the passersby.

’I am so happy to be trained as an architect! In architecture school, I learned how to convey abstract concepts to a variety of audiences, an invaluable skill in life. I get information from the concrete world that helps me create; to me, that sensitivity in large part results from being an architect. Someone asked Frank Gehry what he believed an architecture student needed to do to perform architecture, and he said, “read novels,” and I totally agree with him. Architecture is a frame of mind, it’s about ideas; the profession is about how to translate those ideas into the real world. Recognizing these two distinct aspects and finding how to bring them together

Janney calls his work an ‘anti-cacophony’ installation. ‘Somehow I think the modern architect forgot about people when they designed plazas, as everybody feels like a little ant walking across these huge places, so I wanted to create something that could bring some intimacy back to the plaza.

In addition to the UK venues, additional summer venues for Sonic Forest include the Bonnaroo festival again on the June 15-18and the ‘Lowlands’ festival in The Netherlands from August 18-20.

Christopher Janney has created public interactive sound-light artworks and performances all over the world. Sonic Forest has also been planted in New York City as part of Lincoln Center’s ‘Out-of-Doors Festival’ and in Pittsburgh, PA as part of that city’s ‘Three Rivers Arts Festival.’ It is part of Janney’s Urban Musical Instrument series that also includes Reach! a permanent installation on the N-R platform of the 34th St. subway station in New York City and ‘Touch My Building,’ which activates the entire façade of a nine-story building in Charlotte, NC. He also created Heartbeat:mb, a performance toured throughout the world in which Mikhail Baryshnikov danced to the sound of his own heartbeat.

In addition to his artwork, Janney is a Visiting Professor at Pratt Institute School of Architecture in New York where he teaches his course titled Sound as a Visual Medium. A book on his work, titled ‘Architecture of the Air’ is due out in September, 2007. For more information, visit the website