Friday, October 17, 2003

Whistle Grove always delights

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

Of the thousands who have enjoyed the National Steamboat Monument that overlooks the Cincinnati Public Landing, with its 60-ton paddle wheel and stainless-steel "Whistle Grove,'' probably no one has enjoyed it more than the man who created it.

Christopher Janney is a renowned artist from Lexington, Mass., an architect and jazz musician who has created acoustic wonders around the country.

But his acoustic homage to Cincinnati's steamboat heritage has touched him deeply.

"When I'm in Cincinnati, I've been down here at all times of day and night,'' said Janney, standing among the "grove'' of 24 stainless steel columns that belch smoke and contain movement-sensing audio systems that tell the story of the steamboat era in words and music.

Janney is debuting a new eight-minute piece of music called "Winter's Breath,'' which he has performed at the grove several times this week. It is played on an electric flute, using the sounds of the steam whistles in Whistle Grove's stacks.

At Wednesday's noon performance, the audience was full of kids. Janney gathered them all into the center of the grove for the performance - "I want the audience to be right in the middle of it'' - and the kids responded by dancing around the columns as the music played.

"The kids were just freaking out; it was like they were playing that old schoolyard game, 'Red Light, Green Light,''' Janney said. "When the music would pause; they'd freeze; when it started up again, they'd start dancing.

"It couldn't have been better if I had scripted it that way.''

Janney's Whistle Grove, which opened last fall, was built for the Tall Stacks Commission to give the city a reminder of its heritage.

A visitor walking through the grove triggers sensors in the steel columns, which produce various steamboat sounds - a calliope, a steamboat whistle, the voices of river men talking about their lives, Negro spirituals.

Brushing by the columns, visitors can spark a blast of steam from the jets inside the columns.

"We had so much fun recording all of the music, all of the dialogue,'' Janney said. "This is the first project I've done that has an historical edge. I think we got it right.''


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