Sep 10 2018

Austin burns down Keyboard 1 at Burning Man, 2018


I built XyloVan to give others the joy of playing music. More often, they give me the joy of hearing amazing talent. This guy – who told me his name was Austin – really brought it.

Aug 19 2018

Sweating the details – and XyloVan’s cruise schedule – for TTITD 2018


Preparing for Burning Man – the Thing in the Desert – consumes you. You sacrifice all your time to it, and much of your sanity. I’ve been too busy to even blog about this year’s preparations, which have included a slew of new instruments and a complete teardown/rebuild of the Arduino-controlled canopy-light system. As I’m probably overfond of saying, a mutant vehicle is a hole in the playa into which one pours money, blood and tears.

But it’s still a mutant vehicle. And I’ve got a schedule to keep.

So here, this’ll catch you up:

2018 Scheduled Cruises:

Flag me down if you see me and I’ll give you a ride if there’s room!

If I’m not cruising the playa, abandoning XyloVan briefly to volunteer on GATE, enjoying the insanely inventive events at home at OKNOTOK at 3:00/A, I’ll be doing one of these things.

  • Tuesday 8/28
    • 12 noon: BAIT route from 3:00/L to the Temple and back
    • 2:30 pm: XyloVan Robøtik Perkussion Jam Cruise departs from OKNOTOK (3:00/A)
    • 3 pm: BAIT route from 3:00/L to the Temple and back
  • Thursday
    • 12 noon: BAIT route from 3:00/L to the Temple and back
    • 2:30 pm: XyloVan Robøtik Perkussion Jam Cruise departs from OKNOTOK (3:00/A)
    • 3 pm: BAIT route from 3:00/L to the Temple and back
    • 10 pm: XyloVan plays the Sonic Runway in deep playa – Come bang on the van with us and make the Sonic Runway go wild!

May 23 2018

XyloVan’s Light Fandango comes home to BRC in 2018


At the temple, 2014.


“The Light Fandango” will return to Black Rock City this August in full dress.

I just got my invitation from the Department of Mutant Vehicles. To say I’m excited is a bit of an understatement.

I learned a lot in 2014, the last time she flew.

The chief lesson was – assemble the chandeliers with lock washers instead of flat washers so they don’t keep unscrewing and sending the delicate handmade fixtures crashing to the playa while driving (thus requiring me over and over and over and over again to haul the 10-foot A-frame ladder down from the Cloud Deck, set it up, clamber to the top, screw everything back together, re-crimp all the destroyed electrical connections, clamber down, and put the ladder and tools away).

Oh, and Velcro wraps are no substitute for zip-ties.

A more valuable lesson was this: an on-playa build crew is worth more than water, gold or any precious commodity you can think of, and deserves a spot on XyloVan’s roof on burn night, along with all the just-thawed Gatorade I can give them.

I’m looking really looking forward to working with the good folks at OKNOTOK, the brilliant camp that has graciously agreed to host XyloVan this year.

Watch this space for updates on placement!

Feb 17 2017

Tonepod 2 – A new, more-portable hank drum design


(edit: I quit Facebook in 3/2018, which accounts for the missing videos.)

So, I make these musical drums out of up-cycled propane tanks. Click through for a demo video (and the build log) for Tonepod 2, the new model. Making this one, as with the others – gave me tremendous joy – which is good because the process takes about 40-60 hours and fills our basement shop with dust and noise. And yes, I might be able make one for you. Inquire here.

At this point, I have already safely emptied the tank of propane and washed out the residue of methyl mercaptan (the nasty stink agent that lets you know when odorless propane is leaking). (Seriously, don’t use any tool on metal until the propane is safely gone). I’ve cut off the handle from the top and the base ring from the bottom, and ground off the welds, and now I’m grinding off the rest of the paint before cutting … Continue reading

Aug 9 2016

#7 – the Rat Rod


I’m not much of a player, but here’s a demo of a drum in C-minor – This is the seventh drum I’ve made out of a 20-pound propane tank.

The discarded tank came into the shop in a thrashed, rusted-out pale blue, which looked amazing.

So I kept much of the original paint, cleaning off only a ring of the steel at the tips of the tongues. I then added a pinstripe ring around the hexagonal key (low-C) in the center, painted on a stylized “7”, which I limned in Sharpie – and sprayed 3 or 4 coats of clear enamel over the whole thing.

I made two major design improvements for sound – I cut out a resonator hole in the tank’s bottom (around the valve, just inside the handle).

And I’m experimenting with a new deadening material – recycled bicycle tubes wrapped around all the way around the tank to keep the body from ringing and drowning out the keys.

So far, so good!

Jul 2 2016

Fireball XL-5 – Tank drum video demo


Here’s a quick demo of Fireball XL-5, which I made on commission for Burns. I’m not much of a musician and iPhone isn’t much of a sound-capture device, so the clip doesn’t quite do justice to how resonant it sounds in person. It’s glorious.

If you would like me to make a drum for you on commission, the price is $300 – $250 if you bring your own empty propane tank. Contact me for details.

Jul 2 2016

Fireball XL-5 – the build log


IMG_8197I made Fireball XL-5 for Mykal Burns, a video producer, roller derby enforcer and erstwhile percussionist. The build went something like this:

If you would like me to make a drum for you on commission, the price is $300 – $250 if you bring your own empty propane tank. Contact me for details.

May 17 2016

Demo video – “Green Destiny” tank drum


A little demo of Green Destiny. Full build log here.

May 15 2016

“Green Destiny” – How to build a propane tank drum


If you would like me to make a drum for you on commission, the price is $300 – $250 if you bring your own empty propane tank. Contact me for details.

Mar 3 2015

The XyloVan Repair Fund: Handmade xylophone and gongs for sale!


Hey, friends!

If you’ve ever dreamed of owning a handmade full-octave xylophone like this one – or an ornate custom-engraved ceremonial gong for announcing dinnertime, kickass achievements or the arrival of Friday, now’s your chance.

But first, a story:

So after our epic trip to Burning Man 2014, XyloVan’s transmission finally blew out and we’re in need of two new (expensive!) tires.

We need to have it repaired (it’s a big, costly 1985 Ford truck transmission!), smogged and re-registered so that our one unhappy neighbor (among hundreds more who love playing it every day when they walk past) won’t have call the Parking Authority to get it ticketed and towed.

That’s where you come in. We’re reviving the full perks package from last year’s successful Indiegogo campaign, and offering them to you.

Please donate towards the XyloVan repair fund via the Paypal button below, and we will hand-build some instruments (and deliver some other very cool schwag) just for you:

$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-engraved 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 (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 engraved disc gong, dowel chime, block amulet, slice amulet, patch and sticker)
$1,700: 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.

Excellent Patron Bonus: A 1-DAY XYLOVAN COMMAND APPEARANCE Because you believe in us, we’ll bring XyloVan to you – anywhere within 150 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.

Make it $2,000 and we’ll give you our 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.

That’s it!

Donate what you can here – include your mailing address – and we’ll start building your instruments right away: