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Jenny Olivia Johnson: Don't Look back

Composer and sound artist Jenny Olivia Johnson’s work is a musical memoir, her multi-sensory synesthesia coloring everything she does. Her compositions and artwork range from electroacoustic chamber songs and contemplative solo works to short amplified operas and interactive sound and light sculptures. Jenny's music has been performed by ensembles such as ICE, Alarm Will Sound, Boston Modern Orchestra Project, Bang on a Can, and New York City Opera’s VOX Program among others. Her sound art has been exhibited in many prestigious museums including the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery and the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. She is currently an Associate Professor of Music at Wellesley College, where she teaches courses in experimental music, sound art, digital audio, writing, and critical theories of sound. You can find out more about Jenny's music at Here is the list of pieces we talk about on the podcast. We hope you enjoy it! Posting Sunday morning 2/14 at 9am.

Leaving Santa Monica by Jenny Olivia Johnson

LIVE RECORDING: Jennifer Kerber and Amanda Crider, vocals, with the International Contemporary Ensemble (Matthew Cody, conductor). Merkin Hall, NYC, April 2005.

A big theme in Jenny Olivia Johnson's life as a composer right now is thinking about versions of pieces--old performances, newer ones; polished studio recordings and scrappier captures of live shows; and how these versions relate to one another and become meaningful in surprising ways. Leaving Santa Monica was the piece that launched Jenny Olivia's composition career. Since then, she has released two solo albums, “Don't Look Back” on Innova Recordings in 2015, and "Sylvia Songs,” released on Innova in May 2018. Sylvia songs has been praised by Jazz Weekly as “ethereal,” “celestial,” and containing “sonic wonders and sounds of Northern Lights.” Listening to this particular live performance of Leaving Santa Monica, featured during our interview, the composer reflects upon the unique experience of a particular moment in time; an audience member coughs, the players' emotional state, and the conductor's mood influences his tempo, his interpretive choices; each performance a unique version of the work.

Sylvia Songs by Jenny Olivia Johnson

Performed by P. Lucy McVeigh (vocals), Lavena Johanson (cello), David Russell (cello), Isabelle O’Connell (piano), Jenny Tang (piano), Eliko Akahori (synthesizer), Lisa Liu (electric guitar), N. Adriana Knouf (analog synthesizer and reel-to-reel tape delay), and Jenny Olivia Johnson (digital synthesizers, percussion, and cassette tape noise).

Jenny Olivia Johnson has a special place in her heart for Sylvia Plath - the treatments which aimed to cure her of her mental health problems, the immense beauty of her poetry. Both Sylvia Songs and Glass Heart (Bells for Sylvia Plath) are inspired by Sylvia's life and work.

Glass Heart (Bells for Sylvia Plath)

P. Lucy McVeigh (vocals), Jenny Tang and Eliko Akahori (pianos), David Russell (cello), and Jenny Olivia Johnson (percussion, synthesizer, and electronics)

Dive, from Jenny Olivia Johnson's forthcoming headphones-opera, “The After Time”

P. Lucy McVeigh (vocals), Alex Vissia (vocals), Mike Jones (vocals and trumpet), Yong Su Clark (flutes), Miriam Kapner (oboe), Gleb Kanasevich (clarinets), Cameron West (horn), Wil Dannenberg (horn), Isabelle O’Connell (piano), Morgan Doctor (drums), Lisa Liu (electric guitar), Brent Price (violin), Peter Gregson (cello), Eleonore Oppenheim (electric and contrabass), and Jenny Olivia Johnson (synthesizers, digital audio, and percussion).

DIVE is a room-sized reconstruction of this dive bar, one of the most important settings in the opera’s story; a dark, shadowy dive whose wooden bar, empty stools, and rickety cocktail tables. Audience members are invited to sit and survey a haunted, hole-in-the-wall atmosphere festooned with ambient lighting. 18 mysterious and cartoonish illuminated-manuscript paintings representing each of the scenes of the opera, and myriad trinkets, memorabilia, and photographs strewn all about, all of which are related to the story. If you enjoyed Jenny’s music, you can find more of it at We hope you enjoyed the show.

We want to hear from you! Have you discovered new music that moves you? Share it with us! Are you a composer who would like to be featured on the show? Get in touch. Just want to tell us what a great job we’re doing? Tweet us, leave us a comment on our Facebook page or Instagram, even send us an email. And if you have a minute, please subscribe and leave us a review wherever you get your podcasts.

An now, I leave you with this thought from performing artist Jarod Kintz: "Tomorrow night I'm giving a lecture on silence and invisibility. Don't be surprised if I don't show up."

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