The Bridges at Coler offer a burst of sonic gratitude with nature

Environmental artist Craig Colorusso creates environmental art using sound. Image via Kevin Belli

There is a beautiful stretch of forest in Bentonville, Arkansas called, “Coler Mountain Bike Preserve.” It is an amazing chunk of land with several mountain bike trails throughout and one  main drag. There’s even delicious coffee at a place called Airship in the middle. There are two  bridges bookending the main drag a little over a mile apart from each other, I had the pleasure  of composing sound for them.

Covered Bridge ONE and El Segundo are two separate, yet  connected, sound pieces that play for several hours a day. Covered Bridge ONE is a multi-channel piece for electric guitar that has been bowed, scraped, rubbed and plucked. El  Segundo Is a multi channel piece for Clarinet and Bass Clarinet. Each played by a solar  powered sound system that begins shortly after sunrise and ends shortly after sunset. Both are based on the chord C# Suspended 2nd. 

The idea was to make something that would welcome people as the entered the park. A burst of sonic gratitude, and also for those returning a welcome home. I wanted to make something that engulfed the participant but also allowed the ambient sounds of the environment to also be heard in the mix, bugs, wind, water, leaves, cycle sounds etc.

Craid Colorusso

The world is already a  beautiful place I’m just trying to enhance little parts of it here and there.  

Our lives have become so cluttered with luxury and convenience it is quite refreshing to get outside and just breathe and listen. The older I get the more intrigued by the natural world I  become. Weather is a never ending series of systems colliding with each other. And it’s beautiful.

Through this process with my work I feel more in common with a farmer than an architect. I have an ongoing relationship with the weather and natural world unlike anything I’ve  experienced before. 

In 2009 I went to the desert with David Sanche-Burr and Richard Vosseller to make art using  sustainable energy outside. We went to the Goldwell Open Air Museum in Rhyolite, NV and created Off The Grid. My piece “Sun Boxes,’ Changed everything for me. It’s a solar powered sound installation, comprised of 20 speakers all making a Bb Chord.

I have come to sound art and installation work from the world of punk rock. Although I loved being on stage, the barrier between the audience and the performer felt confining. I wanted to make something that didn’t have that barrier. I wanted to make something that people could feel like they were apart of. Once I made my way outside I saw no reason to go back inside. I wanted to make work that  improvises with mother nature.  

Covered Bridge ONE and El Segundo are presented as music but I think it’s something else.  Recently a friend of mine sent me a video of a beautiful crane in the water under Covered Bridge ONE. It was just being a bird elegantly drinking from the water while my friend was on her walk. The video was cool: I could hear the sounds of the Bridge in the background. My friend said, “Even birds like your work. Congratulations.”  

It really struck me because I felt like, once again, it’s presented as a composition, but these pieces give you just a moment of pause to realize that you are part of some thing way bigger than you. Isn’t that what we’re all after? So the medium is not sound but sound is used as a vehicle to offer the participant a moment of stillness. To be outside and reminded that I am merely one tiny part in the world feels so empowering. 

I had a similar experience myself while testing the sound system for El Segundo. I sat in the  grass and listened to the audio as leaves fell from trees taking their last graceful moments before they go back to the earth. It was beautiful and an honor to be witness to this process.

Craig Colorusso has been exploring the intersection of sound, light, and space through sculpture since 2000. His installations consist of wood, metal, fabric, and electronics.

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