Light Shadow: MLK

Light Shadow: MLK

Urban Musical Instrument Goes to School

Slice of MIT, 28 Jan 2016

The latest urban musical instrument created by Christopher Janney [MIT] SM '78, an artist, musician, and architect, greeted students at a Cambridge MA public school in January. These days students can walk down a hallway and touch or wave at a 7x32-foot panel that, in response, produces light, harmonic tones, indigenous bird songs, and forest sounds. The piece, titled Light Shadow MLK, makes the young teens, a notoriously tough crowd, laugh out loud.

Janney particularly likes working in schools and hospitals. His master's thesis, created when he was studying environmental art with Otto Piene at the MIT Center for Advanced Visual Studies, was a prototype of Soundstair, the responsive musical experience he has since created at Boston's Museum of Science, Boston Children's Hospital, and elsewhere. Kids and parents, the frisky and the ill, find a moment of delight as they produce music walking up and down the stairway.

Light Shadow MLK, located in the Martin Luther King, Jr. and Putnam Avenue Upper Schools, contains a riddle, a device he has used in other interactive architectural pieces. When the students solve the riddle, they are rewarded by a spontaneous dance of light and sound resounding from the wall, a grid that holds 200 sensors, LED lights, as well as 16 audio speakers.

“As long as I’ve always been making interactive sound and light installations, there has always been an educational component, especially in an academic environment. In a sense, the interactive work is a catalyst for education, using the instrument almost as a laboratory,” he says. The project is designed so that students will be able to experiment and reprogram the wall, which was funded by the Cambridge Arts Council’s Percent for Art program.