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Can you hear the "hidden music"?

Written by Elizabeth Weinstein, LASM Director of Interpretation & Chief Curator

Exploring the Hidden Music: Louisiana, Louisiana Art & Science Museum, February 2020

LASM dedicates this post to all those who have been lost or are suffering as a result of COVID-19.

The sound of a bicyclist pedaling, toys bouncing, a drone humming, and even the beating of a human heart are rhythms found in the real world. Artist and jazz musician Christopher Janney refers to these overlooked sound patterns as “hidden music” and applies their “beat” to his experimental compositions written for traditional instruments. Janney’s performances titled Exploring the Hidden Music are part of an ongoing investigation to transform the invisible, such as light, color, and sound, into relatable and tangible experiences. Janney’s performances have been staged around the world, most recently at LASM.

Ten sound scores were performed in Exploring the Hidden Music: Louisiana during American Heart Month this past February. Janney was joined on stage by his regular Boston collaborators as well as several local musicians, namely trumpeter George Bell, vocalist Quiana Lynell, and percussionists Herman Jackson and Gregory Ward. Deyana Popov, also from Boston, stared in the finale, a special version of Janney’s most notable “hidden music” composition titled HeartBeat.

In this piece, the increasingly rapid beat of a dancer’s heart provides the tempo for live musical accompaniment. Janney composed Heartbeat in 1983 for Sara Rudner, the principal dancer at the time for Twyla Tharp Dance. The most famous dancer to perform HeartBeat to date was Mikhail Baryshnikov, who asked to perform the piece as part of a two-year solo tour in 1998. 

At LASM, Deyana Popov was hooked up to a modified heart monitor visible on the stage. She moved slowly at first while Janney recited medical text in tune to her amplified pulse. As her movements intensified, her heart rate increased and the musicians joined in to sing a complex collection of phrases, a variation of “jazz scat.” The vocals then evolved into a ballad composed by Janney titled "What Is A Heart?" sung by Quiana Lynell and Stan Strickland.

After reaching a furious crescendo, only the sound of the dancer’s beating heart was heard. She then walked to the heart monitor and turned it off. The performance ended in a heavy, poignant silence, a palpable reminder that the most important music of all is the rhythm of life itself, hidden deep within us.

Exploring the Hidden Music: Louisiana was performed at LASM on January 31 and February 1, 2020, in conjunction with the solo exhibition titled Sound Is An Invisible Color: Christopher Janney.

Learn more about Christopher Janney:

Learn more about Janney's solo exhibition at LASM:

This performance was supported by Kathy and Steven Nathanson with additional support from the Winifred and Kevin Reilly Fund, Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center, and Louisiana Cardiology Associates. Additional support was provided by the LSU College of Art. Proceeds benefited the Arts in Medicine Program at Our Lady of the Lake Children’s Hospital and a new Art & Wellness program at LASM.

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