Tree of Transformation - CODAworx

Tree of Transformation

Client: Burning Man Project

Location: Black Rock City, NV, United States

Completion date: 2015

Artwork budget: $74,000

Project Team


Ryan Elmendorf



Nick Geurts



Tree of Transformation is a semi-temporary, interactive musical tree that sprouts from a full-size upright piano. The steel trunk twists upward where the canopy consists of nine hand-crafted steel pan drums and LED lights. Visitors play the keys of the piano to actuate hammers to play tones on the steel pans and illuminate the LEDs in concert for a whimsical, multi-sensory experience. Original support from Black Rock City Honorarium. Temporarily installed in Civic Center Park, Denver in 2018.


The goals for Tree of Transformation are to create a temporary, large-scale sculpture to withstand the extreme conditions of the Black Rock desert and to engage the citizens of the temporary city. Steel is chosen because it withstands wide temperature fluxuations and high winds while keeping a polished look and maintaining strength to support the steel pans above. The narrow trunk with a smooth texture discourages climbing. A full-size, upright piano is sourced because it is relatively easy to move into place and allows for maintenance of the electronics contained within. Attracting the attention of visitors and leading them into the engagement is accomplished by the form and design of the artwork. Lights within the steel pans and the piano help to inspire excitement from afar and draw people in. The organic form of the tree is universally relatable. The piece is identifiable as a tree, but curiously, has drums instead of leaves on the branches. The piano transcends culture and age and is recognizable as an object with interactive potential. Even without knowing “how to play” a piano, the keys and the bench invite visitors to come and experiment with play.


Ryan Elmendorf and Nick Geurts are the main collaborators along with members of the Burning Man Project (BMP) staff and a group of local community members. Conceptually, Geurts and Elmendorf (E/G) worked together to design the form and function of the artwork. The BMP granted the project a Black Rock City honorarium to build and transport the piece 1,000 miles for the week-long event. On site, the BMP collaborated with E/G to coordinate heavy machinery and related logistics for installation. Structural and electromechanical engineering as well as fabrication was done by the E/G team in-house. Various members of the local community collaborated on parts of the build, over the 6-month timeline. Significant community contributions were made to the modular design for transportation and temporary installation, fabrication and the electrical system. The community also collaborated to raise $5,500 to support the project. See the Kickstarter campaign here: Denver’s Civic Center Conservancy, The CIty and County’s P.S. You are Here Grants, a grant from Xcel Energy and a donation from Slifer Smith & Frampton supported the installation of the tree in Civic Center Park for 2018.

Additional Information

Materials: Steel, Repurposed Antique Piano, LEDs, Midi Controlled Dimensions: 20’ x 20’ x 20’