A charmed collision of music, art, engineering and a bit of old-fashioned eccentricity, Andrew Bird and Ian Schneller’s “Sonic Arboretum” is a beautiful anachronism in the iPod age. The multimedia collaboration — a perfect pairing for the two men, as Schneller is a sculptor/luthier/engineer and Bird is an indie-pop musician who relies heavily on string instruments — is actually an audiovisual landscape installation that’s made up of a “forest” of antique-style audio-horn speakers (think old-time Victrolas) designed by Schneller and powered by a collection of custom-made tube amplifiers. Ranging in size from 19 to 26 inches (the smaller horns are described as “hornlets” and “hornlings”), the speakers are made of a mix of sustainable materials, including recycled newspaper, dryer lint, baking soda and birch. As guitarist/violinist/whistler Bird manipulates the looping mechanisms — turning himself into a one-man orchestra in the process — his signature melancholy soundscapes are projected through the horn forest.
“Sonic Arboretum” first came to life at New York's Guggenheim Museum last summer as part of a sold-out, one-off concert performance by Bird. Because of its success, the installation is now setting up shop in the Windy City with a monthlong residency at the Chicago Museum of Contemporary Art (Dec. 6–31). The new version of the exhibit will feature a set of site-specific compositions from Bird that will play during exhibit hours, and Bird will be performing two live concert events using the system on Dec. 21 and 22. Bird and Schneller hope to expand the installation to other museums across the country in 2012.