Art and music festivals like Burning Man are a haven for performative audiovisual installations, and the Sonic Runway, a 1,000' open tunnel of light made from a row of 32 circular steel gates, each rigged with an LED light strip, could find no better home than Black Rock City. The corridor flashes in sync with music, resulting in entrancing patterns. A central audio source plays at one end, shooting sound waves across the sand. “At the far end, revelers enjoyed watching light race towards them, then hearing the sound at the same time as the light hit them,” writes the project’s IndieGogo description. In order to do this, the signal has to travel across the LED tunnel at least as fast as the sound waves move across the desert. To give you an idea of how fast the lights are moving, the Sonic Runway team breaks it down into simple math: “The speed of sound is roughly 767 miles/hour or 343 meters/sec. The Sonic Runway is 1,000' long, so a single beat will travel the Runway in about a second.”
The LED strips on each gate are individually accessible, meaning that the engineers can control the colors illuminated on each gate separately, allowing for individually unique patterns and sequences that cater to whatever song is being played. At $500 a pop, these steel gates can add up to a pretty penny, which is why, as with many Burning Man artworks, the Sonic Runway team turned to crowdfunding to help facilitate their project.
This is the Sonic Runway's third at Burning Man appearance, the first arriving at Black Rock City 13 years ago. In 2003, the Runway was made up of just 16 pyramidal shaped gates fastened with strobe lights that would flash in correspondence with the song’s tempo. The group was back again in 2004 with a similar design, then took a long hiatus—until now. The Sonic Runway is back for this year's Burn, and it’s taking advantage of the technological advancements made in the last decade, to stunning effect.