Sound, music and nature explored through SONICBernheim event

By Amy Joseph Landon

By Kacie Goode

Sunday evening at Bernheim focused less on enjoying the sights of the forest and more on enjoying the sounds as guests attended this year’s SONICBernheim event. The three-and-a-half-hour performance and lecture series is a highlight for Bernheim’s summer programs, and brought a unique experience for visitors beyond walking the trails.

<div class="source">KACIE GOODE/The Kentucky Standard</div><div class="image-desc">A woman sits on the rock wall along the Cedar Pond path Sunday evening listening to “Foliage.” The sound installation created by Nelson County graduate Bobby Barbour combined music and nature for the opening performance of SONICBernheim. </div><div class="buy-pic"><a href="/photo_select/87459">Buy this photo</a></div>

KACIE GOODE/The Kentucky Standard
A woman sits on the rock wall along the Cedar Pond path Sunday evening listening to “Foliage.” The sound installation created by Nelson County graduate Bobby Barbour combined music and nature for the opening performance of SONICBernheim.
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Described by facilitator Claude Stephens as “experimental in nature,” SONICBernheim is different from other musical performances in the area. Stephens said that sound is one of the many doorways to nature that Bernheim encourages, and combining art and education with the natural world is something forest officials have advocated for decades.

Taking that “experimental” approach, the event brought in several unique artists to perform. Up first Sunday was a piece created by Nelson County graduate and Louisville multimedia artist Bobby Barbour.

With several speakers and an iPod set up along the Cedar Pond path, Barbour’s sound installation “Foliage” transformed the surroundings into a tranquil piece of art.

The piece played for about 30 minutes, and at pauses, birds and frogs could be heard responding to the sounds.

“The nature sounds are just as important as the music that I made,” Barbour said. “I like making music that creates a place, so just taking it to the actual, physical place made sense to me.”

The piece was something Barbour started working on in the spring, even visiting the location during the process.

“I had to think of music in a different way, because it’s not connected in the same way as a regular piece of music,” he said. Part of that creation included making sure each note was something that stood out on its own, as guests would be walking around the path at different paces and wouldn’t be able to properly experience a linear composition.

Barbour had attended the SONICBernheim events before, but this was his first year performing. He enjoyed watching people roam around the pond enjoying his creation. “Foliage” is part of Barbour’s collaborative audio arts project “Psychic Skin.”

“I started making more peaceful music as a way to relieve stress, kind of out of necessity,” Barbour said, adding that he suffers from anxiety issues. “I use art in a therapeutic sense, and I’ve been doing a lot of music with nature sounds mixed in.”

In addition to Barbour’s performance, guests heard original compositions called “Bird Party” from Louisville composer Charles Rivera. The compositions were performed on guitar, vibraphone, bassoon, bass clarinet and trumpet, and were written about birds of Kentucky.

Each performance was held at a different location in the forest, but all within walking distance. At the visitors center, a crowd gathered in the picnic area to hear from featured speaker David George Haskell, professor of biology at The University of the South, who spoke about his book, “The Songs of Trees.”

Haskell spent his time playing audio clips collected from trees around the world, allowing the crowd to hear everything from a year’s worth of expanding and contracting and growth, to vibrations from a subway train two storeys below.

Though not a musical performance, for many, the lecture and sharing of sound clips brought together the purpose of SONICBernheim, which is to explore the relationships between sound, music and nature.

“Just as the trees in the Amazon Rainforest were made from a community of plants and fungi and bacteria — an integrated network — so too is human hearing,” Haskell said. “Our hearing is a result of a community effort of all the cells in our body,” producing the sensation of sound.

CONNECT event set for August

For those who missed SONICBernheim but are seeking another chance to explore art and nature at Bernheim, CONNECT will return for its ninth year at the forest Aug. 19. Also held in the evening, CONNECT will feature musical performances, a light sculpture competition, and several hands-on activities for kids and adults.

Unique art displays will also be set up around Lake Nevin, and regional craft beer, wine and food vendors will be available. The event will take place 6:26 p.m. – 10:26 p.m. Details for Bernheim’s summer events and pricing can be found at

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