Jul 6 2014

Sewing the skin for “The Light Fandango”


sewing1Today we began the monstrous job of turning 120 linear feet of theatrical scrim into the vehicle’s skin.

We worked with the guys at Rose Brand to choose “Celtic Cloth”, a fairly strong, lightweight and slightly flexible fabric that gives off a soft glow when lights are placed behind it. The beauty of it is that you can put any color light you want behind the stuff – from a theatrical floodlight to the Chinese-made RGB LED light strips that we’ll be using.

The first task was to sew a curtain-rod sleeve into the top edge of the fabric – 120 feet of 10-foot-wide cloth. Biomass here is helping move the fabric across our dining room table so that I can feed it into the sewing machine in a straight line.

Here’s a 3-second video slice of that chore – which took about five hours.

Jul 5 2014

Shaping the halo


IMG_2132Today, more about Hitgirl, Biomass and I – along with pipe-bending expertise from Bender – shaped the halo of EMT conduit that will support the fabric.

It was finicky, time-consuming work, since each of the 10 lengths of conduit had to be bent multiple times – just so to approximate its precise role in the rough oval of the halo.

We’re deeply grateful to Dan and Carl, a couple of wonderful neighbors (who just happen to do fascinating work ministering to jail inmates in Los Angeles) who kindly loaned us the space in their side yard to do this crazy thing.

Jul 3 2014

The work begins – roughing out the frame


frame1This year’s mutation, ailment “The Light Fandango,” rides heavily on work we did for Janus three years ago.

Like 150 pounds of new steel, fabric and fittings on top of another 100 pounds of recycled security grating that served as Janus’ cloud deck railing.

Biomass and I bolted that together onto the big honkin’ roof rack and – voila! – the foundation for The Light Fandango and the core of the rooftop observation deck.

frameWe then began bolting burly 1-inch EMT conduit to the frame – using a combination of pipe clamps and steel U-clamps.

These stick out from the guardrail/passenger box, making a roughly oval shape of 14 support points – the struts on which the entire rig will ride.

Jun 28 2014

XyloVan fundraiser EXTENDED!


XyloVan’s Indiegogo fundraiser was awesome but since we didn’t hit our goal, viagra order we are EXTENDING IT HERE! Help us create this amazing project for Burning Man, 2014!

$5 gets you: a XyloVan sticker.
$10: A XyloVan crew patch (plus sticker!)
$35: A hand-machined aluminum slice amulet (plus patch and sticker!)
$85: A hand-machined aluminum block amulet and dowel chime (plus slice amulet, patch and sticker!)
$150: A hand-machined, disc gong (seen here in the video), custom-inscribed with your choice of slogan, quote or mighty call to arms! (plus dowel chime, block amulet, slice amulet, patch and sticker!)

$300: A hand-engraved, mounted XyloVan xylophone key AND a private playa tour for you and 5 friends at Burning Man 2014 (*does not include Burning Man tickets – plus disc gong, dowel chime, block amulet, slice amulet, patch and sticker)
$750: A hand-built, 5-key xylophone and personal 4-hour appearance by XyloVan anywhere within 40 miles of Los Angeles (plus private Burning Man playa tour, disc gong, dowel chime, block amulet, slice amulet, patch and sticker)
$2,500: This is pretty damn awesome, so we’ll let our Indiegogo description say it:

20140224115416-a_xylo_hero_smYou are THE ULTIMATE XYLOVAN PATRON – you’re pushing us a long way towards our goal, and we’re massively grateful and fortunate to have you support us. So we’re building you a FLOOR-STANDING, FULL-OCTAVE 13-KEY CHROMATIC XYLOPHONE. Each key is hand-cut, carefully tuned to A-440 (Western) scale and mounted in a handsomely-finished, laminated-wood sound-box / case with handles for carrying. The instrument is set atop detachable hairpin-steel legs, which make it elegant for a spot in your music room or parlor, yet completely portable for special events, trips abroad or visits to the home of your exotically musical friends and collaborators. The instrument is fitted with a pressure-zone microphone, allowing it to be plugged in and AMPLIFIED, which will surely lead to all sorts of amazing adventures in music.
Extra bonus! You get two board-any-time PLAYA RIDE TICKETS for XyloVan at Burning Man 2014. If you see us there, hail XyloVan and hop on board ANY TIME – we’ll stop for you even if we’re overloaded – and we’ll drive you anywhere you like on-playa for a couple hours – hang out, play, tell us of your adventures and bang on the van!

Commuter special! You’ll be able to schedule XyloVan for any 4-hour window for yourself and your crew – up to 14 people – any time between Monday and Friday, and we’ll drive you anywhere you’d like to go on-playa – set up any place you’d like, and turn up the amp as loud (or as softly) as you like.

Excellent Patron Bonus: A 1-DAY XYLOVAN COMMAND APPEARANCE Because you believe in us, we’ll bring XyloVan to you – anywhere within 50 miles of Los Angeles. We’ll set up the instruments, sound and lights for a morning, an afternoon or an evening, and you and your guest/students/family/co-conspirators can make any kind of music storm you like. You’ll also have full access to our mixing panel, in case you want to bring other instruments into the mix, or pipe XyloVan’s four channels out to your own mixer for recording purposes.

Beloved Patron Bonus: A 2-DAY XYLOVAN COMMAND APPEARANCE – Because you’ve given so much, we want to give back to you. We will drive XyloVan to you – anywhere within 400 miles of Los Angeles – for a two-day gig. Do with us what you will. We’re there for you, body, soul and amplified, illuminated, motorized instruments.

True Burner Enjoyment: If you’re already on-playa for Burning Man 2014, you’ll get two seats atop XyloVan’s observation deck for the night the Man burns! No sitting in the dust shouting “Down in front!” and trying to keep your butt from falling asleep – you’ll see everything from our deck 8 feet off the ground in the ring of mutant vehicles for the burn!
Donation level: $2500 (and above!)

Give us a hand, and help us bring This amazing project to Burning Man 2014.

May 17 2014

Fixed, home and ready to mutate!


Oscar, <a href=

find proprietor of J.P. Engines, medicine the shop that rebuilt XyloVan's engine and steering rack. ” width=”300″ height=”225″ class=”size-medium wp-image-1985″ />Mack (L) and Oscar (R), proprietor of JP Engine – the shop that rebuilt XyloVan’s engine and steering rack.

At last, halleluia and w00h00!!

Thanks to our wonderful Indiegogo backers and the wizards at JP Engine, XyloVan had a smooth, steady ride home today – and into the next phase of its life.

Oscar and the crew at JP pulled off the heads of our brutish 7.5-liter V8, machined them, and reinstalled them with fresh gaskets. They rebuilt the front end, with brand-new kingpins and bushings, a rebuilt steering box and repairs to a leaking steering pump. They replaced much of the faulty ignition system (coil, alternator and battery). And they replaced belts and hoses all around.

Less than $2300 later, XyloVan runs like a champ, steers like a fine sailboat (c’mon, it’s still a 25-foot-long 15-passenger van!), stops when it’s told and promises to carry us wherever we want to take it.

So, onward to some wonderful new work. Keep an eye on us as we give
XyloVan a much-needed paint job and aesthetic spruce-up (I’m thinking MoonEyes wheel covers) and some little “trick” accents here and there), design the superstructure and skin for our Burning Man mutation, build some new instruments and create the computer-controlled light system that will give it a visual heartbeat on playa at night.

Stay tuned – and if you contributed to this work in any way – or plan to help in the future – know that we’ll start shipping out our Indiegogo perks to supporters in the next two weeks, and that XyloVan’s crew has a huge vanload of gratitude for you.

You are good souls who have pumped new life into our hearts that will resonate deeply every time a child, musician or random adventurous soul picks up a stick and discovers how to play.

May 1 2014

Burning Man 2014 Mutant Vehicle application – submitted!


Thanks again to all our fantastic Indiegogo supporters for making this application possible. Stay tuned for updates!

Mutant Vehicle Name
Mutant Short Vehicle Description
A rolling ballroom ceiling with amplified xylophones and gongs for everyone to play

Mutant Vehicle URL

Previously on the Playa?

Years at Burning Man

Previous Mutant Vehicle Names
Full day/night DMV permit in 2011 as “Janus” – the double-headed player piano

Prior Mutant Vehicle

Prior Mutant Vehicle Information
ARTery placed XyloVan as a playa installation in 2010. We earned full DMV privileges in 2011. In 2012, the vehicle remained unmutated, parked in camp at Swing City, but fully interactive.

Other Mutant Vehicles Created?

Camp Information
Swing City

Day License

Night License

About the Vehicles Mutation
Xylovan (a successful and much-loved veteran of the playa and Los Angeles regional events for the past 4 years) is fitted with amplified 8-foot-long xylphones and an array of other instruments and gongs that invite people to play music with each other. For 2014, we are transforming it into “The Light Fandango” – a roving ballroom ceiling – by shrouding it entirely in backlit, translucent, billowing fabric suspended from a round armature and hung with brightly-lit brass-tone chandeliers. People will be able to climb atop the ceiling (the vehicle’s roof) and ride 10 at a time aboard a rooftop observation deck fitted with a variety of gongs and percussion instruments to play while in motion or they can jam with those and the ground-level xylophones and other instruments when it is stopped.

Lighting Plans
The vehicle’s translucent fabric shell will be radically illuminated from within by THREE 360-degree arrays of controllable RGB LED strips (at the crown, midpoint and base of the skin) and by RGB arrays casting light on the playa beneath the vehicle. Additionally we will mount 8-10 yard-sale chandeliers around the crown of the vehicle, lit with the brightest white LEDs available, to cast light on the outside of the vehicle, and on the people and playa below. The effect will be a traveling pool of light piloted by a thousand pinpoints of white light all the way around the vehicle. Think the Duke of New York’s cadillac – only much, much, MUCH brighter and friendlier.

Mutant Vehicle Intent
XyloVan has given thousands of people at Burning Man and beyond an extraordinary experience exploring the music within themselves. On-playa, people constantly mob the van when it’s stopped and flag us down and beg us to stop when we’re moving so they have a chance to play the instruments. We want to extend this, through this mutation design – so that we can bring this experience to people all over the playa, as well as transporting people who want to join the roving party and jump into the spontaneous jams that pop up whenever we stop. We created this specific design with Caravansary in mind – to bring the experience of a nomadic, interactive, moveable musical feast to every single person we can reach on-playa. To see in greater detail what we have planned, please take a look at our Indiegogo video (about 5 mins): https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VLGhKN_0_f0

Street Legal

Vehicle License Number

State of license

Vehicle Length
30′ 6″ (with mutation deployed)

Vehicle Width
22′ 0″ (with mutation deployed)

Vehicle Height
12′ 0″ (with mutation deployed)

Frame Base
Ford ClubWagon XLT (Econoline 350)

Frame Year


Art Tours

Art Tour Contact Info

Number of Trailers


Trailer Description


Level Description
The base vehicle accommodates up to 8 passengers. The rooftop deck – reached by means of a well-lit, bolted-on ladder – carries 10 to 12 more, and is surrounded by a sturdy, 4’6″ steel guardrail with vertical bars that prevent someone from falling to the ground below.

Sound System

Sound System Wattage

How big is your system?
Normal car stereo or Average living room (under 90 db at 30 ft)

Sound System Description
Pressure-zone microphones gather sound from the three large xylophones on the vehicle’s flanks, feeding it to a digital-delay mixer, which in turn sends the signal to a 200W Kickr amp. The amp feeds a living-room-grade (small) subwoofer and four bookshelf speakers, which point out over open playa so as to avoid feeding back to the mikes below.

Sound Impact Remediation
The mixer is mounted right next to the driver’s seat so volume can be controlled instantly by the driver. We always turn volume down when approaching the temple or quiet areas of the playa, when driving in streets after midnight or before 9 a.m., and we and remain constantly sensitive to people’s requests to moderate the volume. The feedback problem tends to force us to keep the volume at living-room levels anyway. 😉


Standing Passengers

Design Safety
The armature is fully bolted to the guardrail, which is bolted to the rooftop cargo rack, which is in turn bolted to the vehicle itself. We have had large men lunge at the rail repeatedly trying to break it, and it holds up perfectly. The chandeliers will be hung above 7 feet, and safety-cabled as well as clipped to hardware fittings in the armature. All wiring and cables are run through conduits well out of the way of passengers. We limit the rooftop to 10 people (or 12 when stationary) and keep an overall vehicle-population balance within limits of the vehicle’s originally designed capacity as a 15-passenger van. Our operating procedures (described below) prohibit people who are too inebriated from boarding.

Operating Procedures
In accordance with DMV rules, the driver is always sober and well-rested before getting behind the wheel – and remains so for the duration of any run. The driver always travels with a crewmate who:
– Stands outside the vehicle to guide it when necessary (backing up, navigating tight spots)
– Remains vigilant for hazards on playa (obstacles, darkwads, flame installations, etc.)
– Helps conduct people to and from the rooftop deck
– Evaluates the ability (age, agility, sobriety) of rooftop passengers before they board and screens out those who might get hurt boarding or debarking
– Knows where the first aid kit and fire extinguisher are and how to use them

Enter/Exit Procedures
The vehicle takes on and offloads passengers only when completely stopped. Passengers may climb in through the passenger door or the rear doors (although that opening is sometimes stacked with bikes inside). Passengers may board the rooftop deck only by means of the rear ladder, and only when cleared by either the crewmate or by another rooftop passenger who agrees to be the “designated grownup” – to aid the driver in politely refusing admittance to anyone who might be too high, drunk, young, old or simply infirm to safely climb up and down the ladder.

Effort Required
2-4 people 15 hours

Describe Tasks
– Assemble roof-deck guardrail (2 people, 1.5 hrs)
– Assemble crown armature (2 people, 2 hrs)
– Attach front-wheel shape armatures (30 mins, 2 people or 60 mins 1 person)
– Attach fabric to crown armature and various attachment points on the vehicle (2 people, 2 hours)
– Install and connect light bars (2 people, 1 hour)
– Deploy xylophones, microphones, resonators and speakers (2 people, 1 hour)
– Install safety lights, walkaround and final check (2 people, 1/2 hour)

Number of EA passes

Arrival Day

Propulsion Type
Stock 7.5-L V8 gas engine – recently rebuilt, so about as green as a big gas engine can be. We will be burning approx 6-10 gals.

Does your Mutant Vehicle have a steam boiler of any type?

Flame Effects


Data Listed Publicly?

Jan 25 2014

Building “The Light Fandango” on playa


The Light Fandango parked at Swing City

The Light Fandango parked at Swing City

Like XyloVan’s other mutation (Janus), see The Light Fandango took shape over many weeks of building, approved sewing and all-round hackery.

And like Janus, the final product was disassembled for transport (via its own bad self) to the playa of Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, where we then built everything back onto XyloVan to achieve its full mutation as The Light Fandango. (Here’s the complete build log).

Last time, the crew was, um, me. I had some excellent help on teardown, but building Janus took me 2-1/2 18-hour days.

This year, we had an excellent on-playa crew: Sam Hiatt, Julie Demsey, Lindsay VanVoorhis, Dave Ayers and Jeremiah Peisert all kicked in (as did son Biomass and daughter Hitgirl). We didn’t take a ton of photos because – hey, we were busy!

We rebuilt the framework out of pre-cut 1-inch EMT tubing and bolted it to the already-in-place passenger cage with U-clamps.

We then assembled the three sections of pre-cut, pre-bent (thanks, Bender!) tubing, and sleeved the pre-sewn lighting-scrim fabric onto the halo, and then hoisted the sections one at a time up on top of the framework – a series of struts sticking out horizontally from the passenger cage.

Then we let down the fabric and anchored it around the van, and attached the 10 fabric panels that hug the Ford ClubWagon XLT’s endearingly brutish 1985 body work – skinning the entire thing in about 10-1/2 hours till it looked like the photo at the top.

We hung all 14 chandeliers from the tips of the struts (thanks, Kristina, Christo and Lee!)

I plugged in the LED light strips, only to discover that a power-supply problem was preventing things from working correctly, but Spencer Hochberg, our genius Arduino engineer crawled around underneath and got it running again pretty quickly (thanks, Spencer and Rina!).

More pictures and videos to follow in the next post. Meantime – thank you SO MUCH to Sam, Julie, Lindsay, Dave and Jeremiah (and everyone else who lent a hand) for helping us realize this lunatic dream.