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an installation opera about falling, and a meditation on the (un)answerable

The Latest Update

Making big plans!

Posted on June 25, 2017 by Jenny Olivia Johnson

Hello everyone!  I can’t begin to express my gratitude for being supported by New Music USA for this project!  

Since I first posted this page, some exciting things have come into play:  I’ve secured three wonderful singers, P. Lucy McVeigh, Alex Vissia, and Gilbert Spencer, to play the roles of Maureen, Erica, and Joel.  I’m also in conversations with an absolutely *fantastic* chamber orchestra (stay tuned for an official announcement).  Our first step will be to make a stellar studio recording of the music, ideally in January 2018.  After that, Daniela and I will begin planning the installation version of the piece.  She and I just completed our first collaboration for a piece that is now being featured at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, and I’m so excited to see what we can mutually devise for this (rather different, but still resonant) story about trauma and its deep relationship to the architecture of a skyscraper and the fateful elevator that leads to its roof.

Once again, SO MANY THANKS to New Music USA for supporting this project!  We are thrilled and will be posting again soon with many updates!

-Jenny Olivia Johnson






Lucy, a beautiful student dancer at an urban women’s college, falls to her death from the roof of a dorm. Erica, her infatuated classmate, was with her when she fell, but was too drunk to remember what happened.  Her therapist, Maureen, arrives on the scene, devastated at the lack of answers.  

This is an opera about a possible suicide at an urban women’s college, but it is also a multi-media art installation.  It will be written and designed such that it can be experienced in three different ways:  as a studio recording, hearable in the intimate space of one’s headphones; as a site-specific performance at an art gallery; and as an ongoing multi-media installation, experienced in the gallery space as atemporal, fragmented audio and video projections that performatively gesture to the mystery and unknowability of traumatic memory.

The performance and installation space for “The After Time” will ideally be a small art gallery with three rooms that flow into one another.  The first room will be a video and lighting simulation of an outdoor urban roof space, whose colors shift and loop over time from a beautiful afternoon sunset to a chillingly black starry night.  The second room will be a night club, where trance music and glittering lights usher the audience into a 1990s-era rave scene.  The final room will be a hall of mirrors, a representation of the dance studio where our two student dancers first met, and which also becomes transformed, through lighting and video, into a labyrinth of tangled and fragmented memories as the opera progresses.

The synopsis for the opera–which one can experience both “in time,” as a performance, and “out of time,” as an installation–is below.

The After Time takes place at an urban women’s college, where Lucy, a talented student of ballet, has mysteriously fallen to her death from the roof of a dormitory. In the terrible aftermath of the tragedy, two people from the victim’s life—her therapist, Maureen, and a shy classmate, Erica, who has been stalking Lucy obsessively—are brought together. While Maureen believes that Erica, who was on the roof when Lucy fell, can bear witness to what has occurred, Erica claims that she was drunk and remembers nothing. As their stories unravel, haunting truths about the nature of Lucy’s relationship with Maureen is revealed, as well as their mutual devastation that they will likely never know why Lucy has died.

Project Media

The After Time: “Falling” (final scene)
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This is the music for what will ultimately be the final scene of “The After Time.” Titled “Falling,” this music is imagined as the final contemplation of the three characters who find themselves devastated at the unexplainable death of Lucy, a beautiful student ballerina who fell to her death from the roof of an urban dorm.

While this track was released as a stand-alone song on my debut album DONT LOOK BACK, it will likely be rewritten to comprise three female singers (Erica, Jane, and Maureen), and its instrumentation may change as well.

Glass Heart (Bells for Sylvia Plath)
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“Glass Heart” is an interactive sound and lighting installation I built in 2013. After composing a lengthy, sprawling art song using fragments of Sylvia Plath’s poetry, I then took the audio recording apart and programmed the installation to play back unpredictable fragments of the music when visitors come into the space and touch or strike the bell jars. (I plan to use similar techniques for “The After Time.”) “Glass Heart”will next be exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery at the Smithsonian Institution in June 2017-May 2018.

Shooting Skies
Features: Daniela Rivera

Daniela Rivera’s interest in trauma and its unforeseeable quality have been present in her work since the post dictatorship period in Chile, where she graduated from the Art School in Santiago in 1996. “Shooting Skies” is a commentary on the seductive and traumatic aspects of violence. By inserting the work into the discursive space of gun policies and politics in America, Daniela means to address these issues from an aesthetic standpoint and in doing so, generate an experience that fosters dialogue around them.

Start and End Dates



Boston, Massachusetts

1 update
Last update on June 25, 2017

Project Created By

Wellesley, Massachusetts
Composer and sound artist Jenny Olivia Johnson is currently an associate professor of music at Wellesley College.  Her first solo album, DONT LOOK BACK, was supported by a New Music USA project grant and released on Innova Recordings in 2015.  Her music has been described as “gorgeous, ominous, and hypnotic” by the Boston Globe, “stunning in its simplicity and power” by…


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