Bernheim Forest Sound Art Installation Harnesses Power of the Sun

Craig Colorusso started his art career as a musician—an impressionable 14-year-old musician who, like many before and after him, took up the guitar to help him meet girls. But after years of playing, he felt like there was something else out there for him.

Enter sound art. One of his most popular installations is Sun Boxes, a solar-powered installation of 20 boxes that will be installed Saturday at Bernheim Forest’s Connect at Bernheim event. Inside each box is a circuit board that plays a pre-recorded guitar note on a loop. Together, they form a b-flat-six chord, which he says he chose because it’s soothing, yet every-so-slightly dissonant. 

“They are all programmed to play continuously as long as there is enough sun. The catch is, all of those samples are a different length, so if they are repeating they are lining up differently,” said Colorusso. “So according to my calculations, it would take several months before the whole piece starts up again.”

What does it sound like? Listen: 

Sun Boxes at the 12th annual Sculpture at Maudslay. Filmed by Kevin Belli on September 18, 2010. 

Connect at Bernheim is a celebration of art, music, science, nature and what organizers call “spontaneous creative chaos.” The event, which begins exactly two hours before sundown (6:24 p.m., to be precise) and ends four hours later, includes a headlining set by Bonnie “Prince” Billy, puppets, drum groups, food and beer and art.

Sun Boxes will also make an appearance at New Albany’s Carnegie Center for Art and History this week. The boxes will be installed on the center’s front lawn for a brief exhibit, Friday 2-3 p.m.

This weekend will mark the third time Sun Boxes has been part of the Bernheim program. Colorusso has also exhibited the installation in Lexington in a LexArts-sponsored program.

“I like Kentucky, but I didn’t realize Kentucky liked me as much as it does,” he said with a laugh. 

Colorusso first created the Sun Boxes for an installation project located “about five miles from Death Valley,” and has since installed the exhibit across the country at festivals, wedding receptions, galleries and natural environments like Bernheim. The experience, he says, is different depending on the environment. Birds tend to like the sound and chime in, so different kinds of birds in a given area yield a different layer of song. Even the quality of the air can be different, and that plays a role.

“In the desert, sound just goes. There’s nothing in the way,” he said. “People came from two miles away because they heard Sound Boxes and they said you we have to know what this is. They were disappointed, I think they thought a power line was down or it was a UFO.”

Sun Boxes is designed to break down the barriers between audience and art that Colorusso felt so keenly during his time playing on stage.

“I wanted to make something people could feel they were literally part of,” he said “That’s one of the things I love about Sun Boxes. As soon as you see or hear it, you are part of it, and you decide how far you want to go.”