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Sonic Arboretum – MCA Chicago 2011

The Sonic Arboretum is a collaboration between composer / violinist Andrew Bird and sculptor / inventor Ian Schneller of Specimen Products. It is a sonic installation consisting of a "forest” of plant-shaped audio horn speakers powered by custom-made tube amplifiers. These speakers and amps serve as a compositional garden for Bird who creates new site-specific compositions that play continuously as visitors meander and follow the music's lead.

The installation at the Museum Of Contemporary Art Chicago was part of the MCA Stage's 2011-12 season and was on exhibit December 6 - 31 with two special Sonic Events on Wednesday, December 21 and Thursday, December 22 where Bird performed using the Sonic Arboretum as the P.A.

Video of the December 21st evening performance at the MCA Chicago

For the MCA exhibit, the Sonic Arboretum included 76 horn speakers: 24 Hornlets, 24 Hornlings, 24 Liederhorns, one Janus Spinning Double Horn Speaker, 2 XL Horn Speakers, and a new XL Janus Spinning Double Horn Speaker. The horn speakers, handmade using compressed recycled newsprint and dryer lint, are powered by custom tube amps that are also entirely handmade by Specimen Products. One of these amps, the Octoblock made its debut at the MCA.

During the first week of the installation a mini recording studio was setup on the museum's third floor balcony. From there, Bird created new musical impressions specifically for the atrium space, layering violin, guitar and vocal loops, captured live, and sent shifting between clusters of speakers in the installation. After recording nearly 2-1/2 hours of music, Bird and his engineer, Neil Strauch, orchestrated the movement of sound throughout the Arboretum assigning specific tracks to specific horns and shifting those tracks around the Arboretum to create spatial and aural phenomena. These compositions played back through the Sonic Arboretum continuously throughout the day.

The Sonic Arboretum debuted at New York's Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in August 2010 in the form of a one-night-only performance of Andrew Bird's music, realized via 53 sonic sculptures of Ian Schneller. Performing for a sold out crowd, Bird directed different horn groupings via multiple loops played live on violin, guitar, and glockenspiel creating an audiovisual landscape.

Sonic Arboretum at the Guggenheim Video

More photos from the MCA exhibit.

See photos taken during the building of the MCA exhibit
Building Photos #1
Building Photos #2

The horn speakers and tube amps created for the MCA exhibit are now available for purchase:
- Liederhorns
- Hornlings
- Hornlets
- Hi Fi Stereo Tube Amplifiers

Exhibit Reviews:
American Songwriter
Chicago Magazine
A.V. Club Chicago
Time Out Chicago Kids
The Guardian U.K.
WBEZ / Chicago Public Radio

Performance Reviews:
Pop Matters
Brooklyn Vegan
Chicago Tribune
Heave Media
Proxart
Time Out Chicago

FEATURES

- Twenty-four Liederhorns (a new larger size of the Hornlet & Hornling shape)
- Twenty-four Hornlings
- Twenty-four Hornlets
- One Octoblock Tube Amplifier
- Eight Stereo Hi-Fi Tube Amplifiers
- Two XL Horn Speakers
- One Janus Double Spinning Horn Speaker
- One XL Janus Double Spinning Horn Speaker

Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller Sonic Arboretum MCA Chicago December 2011

Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller Sonic Arboretum MCA ChicagoAndrew Bird & Ian Schneller Sonic Arboretum MCA Chicago

Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller Sonic Arboretum MCA ChicagoAndrew Bird & Ian Schneller Sonic Arboretum at MCA ChicagoAndrew Bird and Ian Schneller Sonic Arboretum MCA Chicago December 2011

Sonic Arboretum at Chicago's MCA Museum

Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller Sonic Arboretum at MCA Chicago December 2011Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller Sonic Arboretum MCA Chicago

Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller Sonic Arboretum MCA Chicago December 2011Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller Sonic Arboretum MCA Chicago December 2011Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller Sonic Arboretum MCA Chicago December 2011

Andrew Bird & Ian Schneller's Sonic Arboretum at Chicago's Museum of Contemporary Art, 2011