Invited article written by Craig Colorusso.
My conscience led me to solar energy. I think it’s a promising way to address the energy needs of our future. The politicians and the scientists will always argue and lie. I stumbled onto to something that is much greater than politicians, scientists and my conscience. I made something beautiful.
Sun Boxes is a solar powered sound installation. There are 20 speakers each playing a recording of a different guitar note continuously as long as there’s enough power. There’s a PC board inside each box that has an amplifier, some software and a sample. The whole thing is powered by direct Sun light via solar panels on each Box. Collectively the notes make a Bb 6 chord.
There are no batteries so the main variable is volume. More sun = more power = more volume. I used to think this was just math but having witnessed several cloudy days it really sounds different. If the clouds are really dense the Boxes will stop altogether. But as soon as the Sun burns through they all start up again at the same time.
If the clouds are so dense that the sun does not burn through, they don’t make a sound. This happens every so often, which has made me a very patient person. This wasn’t an intention but I love the idea that sometimes in life you don’t get what you want when you want it. It is nice to be reminded of this.
I have a different relationship to the planet now. I wake up every morning, gig or not, and it’s either a good day for Sun Boxes or it isn’t. My constant weather updates make me feel like a farmer.
People often ask why I don’t do things to manipulate the outcome of the piece. My answer is simple; “I’m just trying to get out of the way.” Sun Boxes is a system that improvises with Mother Nature. There have been so many beautiful moments that I could have never predicted. If I tried to alter the outcome I might miss something beautiful.
The physicality is probably the starting point. For years I toured all over the country (USA) in different bands. It was great but, I wanted to do something more. There’s that barrier between audience and performer that works well in Rock-n Roll. I wanted to make something that people could feel like they were part of. When you see or hear Sun Boxes you are part of it, you decide how close you get. The piece was designed to surround the participant. It feels good to have the sound all around your body.
Sun Boxes doesn’t just take over it interacts with what’s already there. The sound of Sun Boxes is loud enough to engulf the participants but there’s also enough room for ambient sounds to be part of the experience. One time in turner’s Falls MA, an ambulance raced by sirens full bore. It was amazing to hear the sirens as they drove right by the piece. It was a bombastic moment that sounded like it was composed.
The Bb 6 is a great chord. The piece was intended to be heard during the day, so I was after something that sounded like daytime. Something uplifting. I began in the key of Bb and recorded a bunch of chords. The Bb 6 sounded perfect. There’s just a tinge of dissonance that allows participants to wander down a thought provoking path if they choose. But ultimately the chord resolves and soothes. The sound of Sun Boxes is simultaneously soothing and energizing not unlike yoga or meditation.
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. Craig recently won the top prize at ARTFIELDS with his last version of Sun Boxes.