Jul 8 2022

GONG FIGHT armor – principal build test


The sound inside the kit is kind of glorious, but I think during a fight it will be hellaciously loud. Might need to hand out earplugs to the fighters. I’ll be working on arm protection next. And maybe some smaller noisemaking items.

Jul 8 2022

GONG FIGHTS – helmet test


It works. More to come.

Feb 14 2021

What do you do with decommissioned gongs?


You recommission them, that’s what.

I had to leave XyloVan’s keyboards behind in storage when we moved from Los Angeles (no room in NYC).

But I brought the disc gongs with me. I finally got around to rebuilding them into something a lot more compact and portable, and I took the opportunity to engrave them all in the style of the two spare-tire-mount gongs, which are at the center of this array.

There’s a lot of energy stored in these, from all the thousands of people who played them since I first bolted them onto the van back in 2010.

I love that I can still play with those souls through this thing.

May 28 2020

Pandemic Warning Mask 3, with magnets


This mask was the largest one I could manage to cut out and make wearable from the tin ceiling tile, which was originally a 3-by-3-foot sheet of tin.

It is definitely meant to be worn without sunglasses so that the wearer’s eyes are visible.
I also fabbed a new mask, including magnets so that the faceplates are interchangeable (see VIDEOS at the bottom of this post)- and so that I didn’t have to sew a new cloth liner for every single iteration of this series.

The videos below show how easily the faceplates can be changed, and what they look like in three dimensions.

Mask 2 and 3
How magnets work

May 28 2020

Pandemic Warning Mask 2


I learned some things on the first mask. I’m still really pleased with the way it turned out, but this time around I primered the surfaces I intended to paint, and the paint went on a lot more smoothly and did not crawl and craze in the way that gave the first mask it’s beaten-to-hell patina.

May 15 2020

Quarantine project – pandemic masks


I’ve started a new personal project about the pandemic, masks and fear.

I’ve had these sheets of tin ceiling floating around the shop unused for years and found that the stuff lends itself to cutting, bending, painting and rivets, plus it’s sturdy and not too heavy to wear. (And yes, that’s a double-layered cloth mask behind the tin, so it’s wearable in public as protection.) You can find more in-process shots on my IG.

Others are in the works. Watch this space!

Mask off the stuff you don’t want painted

Spray black over masked yellow, then pull the tape

Oct 15 2019

R.I.P. XyloVan – 2010-2019


XyloVan began its life nearly 10 years ago as an idea: Let’s build a mutant vehicle so our young kids can ride around even after bedtime and we can all enjoy Burning Man safely together after dark.

The van’s full, rich and musical life ended last month – after so many adventures, mishaps and miracles that I never could have dreamed of – with me stripping off the xylophones and gongs and putting the vehicle up for sale.

It was like building it all over again – but in reverse. (see photos below after the jump)

Deeply bittersweet.

I peeled off the magic, wrenching the hand-made instruments from the 3/8-inch mounting bolts where they had ridden ever since 2010, when my wife and kids and I began transforming a 1985 Ford 350 ClubWagon XLT into the only musically-playable art car I’ve ever met.

I unwired the control pod carrying the digital-delay mixer and Arduino control box, and stowed the electronics and cables for future projects. I put the instruments into long-term storage against the day when I might bee foolish enough to build another musical mutant vehicle. And I turned the van over to … Continue reading

Jul 3 2019

XyloVan is (mostly) FOR SALE


You read that right: This day had to come. We’re moving, and the time has arrived for me to send XyloVan (1) on to its next incarnation. 

Underneath the instruments, (and the patina of wonderful music, noise and love that thousands of people have laid on them during its 9.5-year existence), lies a sturdy old 1985 Ford ClubWagon XLT. It is dying to be reincarnated as a new mutant vehicle – maybe yours.

I’m moving soon to a place where I won’t be able to park its 25-foot length, and I’ve been thinking of changing XyloVan’s basic design for quite some time now.

So, it’s time to split the music from the van, and send both on to new lives.

I will mount the instruments on a new vehicle (design still in the works). And I am selling XyloVan’s base vehicle WITHOUT INSTRUMENTS –  asking price $350.  

Somewhere out there, a fellow Burner with dirt under his fingernails and fire in his eyes needs this van – and can envision a new mutant vehicle built on this beefy, high-capacity foundation. Any questions?

Here’s what you get:



1985 Ford ClubWagon XLT

  • 7.5-L V8 engine, RUNS STRONG
  • Interior seating for 10, or aninsane amount of cargo room if you pull the benches.
  • Standing room on the roof (with a ladder and attachable chest-high guardrails!) for 10-12 people
  • Full-width rear step for easy loading of people & gear
  • Rebuilt V8 cylinder heads
  • Rebuilt carburetor
  • Rebuilt steering box and front end
  • New water pump
  • New alternator and voltage regulator
  • Near-new tires
  • Stereo/CD player with MP3 jack
  • Onboard 12V power system with two deep-cycle marine batteries
  • 12V Arduino panel with 12 RGB/LED light circuits 
  • 120V AC power inverter
  • Extra Flair: Burning Man Department of Mutant Vehicle daytime and nighttime permit stickers and playa vehicle passes for 2011, 2014 and 2018.

FILE PHOTO – roof rack is included

Full disclosures:

  • Xylophones and gongs are NOT INCLUDED
  • No AC. 
  • Some oil leaks.
  • Bodywork will have some holes left by removal of the mounted instruments. 
  • There is no body rust of any size, but the paint is heavily weathered
  • Must be jump-started at the moment, as it has a (probably simple) charging problem I’m not qualified to solve. 

Other than that, it’s a rock with a ton of history and dust in it. It will definitely make thousands of passengers (and a few mutant vehicle builders with fire in their eyes) very, very, very happy.

Want to come by and take a look? Ping me!

Feb 4 2019

Veering off into left field – to build a marimbula


This is a long way from xylophones and propane-tank drums, but I’ve really enjoyed building cajóns and – for the first time – a marimbula.

Quick demo and walkaround

The marimbula is a Caribbean instrument, descended from the African kalimba, and generally functions as a bass. As you’ll see in the video at the bottom of the post, I first experimented with a 6-key marimbula built onto the back of one of my cajons, just to figure out the basics of construction.

This one is a 16-key marimbula – which I’ve decided has about three too many bottom-end keys and perhaps one too many high-end keys, as the sound quality falls off quite a bit at the ends of its scale. Next, I might try building one like a piano keyboard (with two layers of keys in white and black) centered in the middle of this scale.

The tuning has been kinda challenging – I finally settled on D – but I’m tuning it slowly by ear because the digital tuning apps can’t handle all the overtones it puts out. Anyway, it’s a helluva lot of fun to play – particularly on a nice, resonant wood floor – because it’s easy to play, and the notes send vibrations through your butt and up your spine. I take great satisfaction in building instruments that create physical joy along with pleasant music.

Jan 16 2019

Building cajóns – all of a sudden


The old-timey title for this post could have been:

The Wisdom and Benefits of Contemplating a Temporary Shift from the Traditional Norm for This Institution in Materials, Methods, Design and Construction of Multi-Purpose Acoustic Percussion Instruments:

Or, a “Box to Bang On”

Because this post is about a kick in the head. A total world-shifting creative non-sequitur from all this demanding, burly, unforgiving metal I’ve been working with for so many years.

All of a sudden I’m building cajóns. Out of wood. Where did *that* come from.

Lemme back up a bit.

I’ve been goofing around with the idea of combining disc gongs with a sound box like the one I built a million years ago for my very first xylophone.
I wanted to explore: disc arrays, resonance, materials, instrument playability.Here’s a sketch: —->

And then it occurred to me that the cajón (a sit-upon box drum with  roots in Peru and on loading docks everywhere) is such a perfect blend of structural integrity and resonance – like musical furniture – that if I could build one strong enough, it could do double duty as both metallophone and drum.

Gee, that sounds like a lot of work.

Maybe just start with building a good cajon to see if it’s easy enough. So, after digesting half a dozen how-to’s on YouTube and stealing some of the most interesting design ideas into my plan, I started my first.

Here’s a ragged build log: