Dont Look Back

Dont Look Back

More than a mixtape from the past
Jenny Olivia Johnson
Megan Schubert
P. Lucy McVeigh
Amanda Crider
Jessica Schmitz
Eileen Mack
Andrew Delclos
Todd Reynolds
Peter Gregson
David Russell
Melinda Menezes
Lisa Liu
Dan Kozak
Isabelle O’Connell
Eliko Akahori
Jake Penn Kozak
Jude Traxler
Jenny Olivia Johnson
Nathaniel Berman
Adam Weiner
Catalog Number: 
new classical
new music
solo voice

Cambridge, MA

Release Date: 
Sep 25, 2015
Liner Notes: 
1 CD
Jenny Olivia Johnson: Don't Look BackiTunes Album Page
Song TitleTimePrice
1.Dollar Beers (Redondo Beach '96)09:55$0.99
5.The After Time: I. Dancing05:57$0.99
6.The After Time: II. Drinking05:15$0.99
7.The After Time: III. Falling08:09$0.99
One Sheet: 

Dont Look Back, composer Jenny Olivia Johnson’s solo debut album, explores the subject of early childhood and adolescent trauma. The album’s five musical works—scored for voice, small chamber ensemble, and electronic sounds—profile characters who undergo the emotional aftermath of extreme experiences. Traumatic memories can be impossible to adequately describe, account for, or narrate, and that is what propels the often non-linear stories being told here. Ranging from abstract re-imaginings of the 1972 Andes plane disaster (“Pilot”) and a near-drowning incident occurring in Southern California in 1996 (“Dollar Beers”), to a poetic reading of Nabokov’s Lolita from the point of view of traumatized 13-year-old Humbert Humbert (“Starling”), an emotional homage to a Metallica-loving, self-injuring teen from the 1980s MTV era (“Cutter”), and a fragmentary opera-in-progress about the mysterious suicide of a college freshman (“The After Time”), Dont Look Backeschews straightforward narratives in favor of haunting, temporally protracted meditations on the sometimes destructive, sometimes beautiful traces of fragmentary memories that survivors of early trauma retain.

Many of these musical narratives of trauma emerge out of language--as sensations, colors, or sounds, and sometimes as synaesthetic (mixed-sensory) perceptions. It is precisely these kinds of complex and unknowable aspects of human memory that Jenny Olivia Johnson explores not only in music, but also in her work as a scholar of memory and its relationship to sound. Every piece on Dont Look Back—which is both a cycle of disparate oratorios telling different kinds of stories, and a deeply personal mixtape tracing the last five years of the composer’s own life—is haunted by distant memories of things that may or may not have actually happened, and the mysteries behind that process.

While these subject matters might seem dark, “Dont Look Back” acknowledges what it means to overcome darkness, and how difficult experiences can indelibly reshape one's perceptual abilities in eerily beautiful ways. The honesty with which traumatic experiences are depicted here promises to touch many, even those for whom this genre and style of music might be entirely foreign.

Jenny Olivia Johnson is a composer and sound artist currently teaching at Wellesley College. Her music, which has been described as “gorgeous, ominous, and hypnotic” by the Boston Globe, “stunning in its simplicity and power” by the Boston Musical Intelligencer, “bold” by the Los Angeles Times, and “iridescent, shimmering, and evocative” by Time Out New York, is often concerned with abstract representations of overwhelming emotional experiences. Her scholarly work on synaesthesia, musical memory, and trauma has been published in Women and Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture and the Transcultural Music Review, and a recent sound installation, “Glass Heart,” is scheduled for exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in 2017, as part of the “One Life” series profiling Sylvia Plath (curated by Dorothy Moss). Jenny divides her time between Cambridge, MA and New York, NY.


“[In ‘Dollar Beers (Redondo Beach ’96),’] over a gently pulsating harmonic pattern floats a fragile, shadowy vocal line; the words, which Johnson based on a Young Adult novel, build ominously to a climax whose dark outcome is alluded to, but never stated clearly. … [T]he album feels like a mixtape, simultaneously a record of how Johnson achieved her own style and a series of song-stories that share an elusive yet unmistakable core of tragedy.” [FULL ARTICLE]
David Weininger

“Wellesley professor Jenny Olivia Johnson … beautiful sounds with stark lyrics. … Conductor Nathaniel Berman leads the ensemble in assured renditions of the material. While plenty of composers are reveling in the electro-acoustic playground, there aren’t too many that have the orchestrator’s ear and sense of pacing possessed by Johnson. Recommended.” [FULL ARTICLE]
Christian Carey