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Artist displays vision of sound, sound of color

Karen Finkelman tilted her head to one side to listen to the relaxing sounds of crickets chirping, frogs croaking and a fog horn blowing in the distance.
Christopher Janney
Artist Christopher Janney stands under the green and magenta tinted window panes of the Terminal C parking garage at Logan International Airport in Boston. Janney designed one of America's largest interactive public art projects, of which the window panes are an aspect.Stephan Savoia / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Karen Finkelman tilted her head to one side to listen to the relaxing sounds of crickets chirping, frogs croaking and a fog horn blowing in the distance.

She could have been in the woods of New Hampshire or on the shore of Cape Cod. But there wasn't a forest, ocean or lily pad in sight.

"It's a nice sound to hear in a stressful airport when you are very stressed out," Finkelman, a 34-year-old mother of three, said after arriving at Boston's Logan International Airport from Orlando, Fla. "It is just a nice, nature's sound."

That was indeed the intent behind the artwork of Christopher Janney, an architect and avid jazz musician who created the piece that includes colored glass walls on two parking garages and natural sounds from different parts of New England. The exhibit, covering eight stories, is touted as one of the nation's largest public art installations.

The two-piece "Rainbow Cove" installation cost about $300,000 and is part of a $205 million Central Garage expansion project. It will be formally inaugurated on Tuesday, Massachusetts Port Authority spokesman Richard Walsh said.

Massport selected the light-and-sound artwork from proposals submitted by about 50 artists. Officials worked closely with Janney on key aspects of the maintenance-free artwork, including ensuring that it corresponds with color codes of the two terminals in which it is installed, Walsh said.

"The airport can be a tough place — a lot of people, flights can be delayed, flights can be canceled," said Janney, a prolific public space artist. "My interest is try to create an interesting, stimulating, alternative experience."

The creation also seeks to soften the concrete-and-steel feel of the airport and make the place more enjoyable to passengers and others, said Janney, an architect trained at Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

The project is part of Artport, which seeks to incorporate quality visual art into Massport properties.

"As the sounds go, I really wanted to make sound images. We hear all these crickets now. It is like an evening through the woods in New Hampshire," Janney said as travelers walked past a glass wall ranging in color from blue-green to yellow-green.

Janney said designing and writing the software that controls sounds in the interactive piece was the hardest part of creating the project, whose interactive concept extends to elevators.

A melodic sound rings out when passengers press a button to summon an elevator. Sounds from the natural environment are piped inside the car as it travels or when the doors open and close.

"There are 38 speakers in here, there is a different sound coming out of each speaker," said Janney, 57, a visiting professor at New York's Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art. "That's why you get this sort of mix — you don't hear the sound really flat."

His creative use of sound, light and interactive technology has produced remarkable pieces on display in public and private space in Europe and America.

One of his best known creations, "Reach: New York," is in a New York City subway station at 34th Street and Herald Square. The piece consists of horizontal columns of green aluminum tubing hanging along each platform with sensors along the length.

Commuters waving a hand in front of a sensor interrupt a beam of light and activate the piece, producing the sound of flutes, marimbas and environmental noises from Florida's Everglades and Brazilian forests on the opposite platform.

Massport Aviation Director Edward C. Freni is happy with the installation.

"If you spent any time at the Janney exhibit, I think you will agree he reveals the hidden music in the architecture and it's really the sounds of New England," Freni said. "It's a beautiful exhibit."