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:

Jan 25 2015

Video: XyloVan at Burning Man 2014


A little sampler of the hundreds of people who played XyloVan at Burning Man, 2014.

Jan 25 2015

Skipping the Light Fandango at Burning Man 2014


heroHere’s the finished product – lightbars strobing through the rainbow, chandeliers all aglow.

Never thought we’d make it (all things considered), and the Light Fandango came out about 9 times as lush-looking as we could ever hope for.

Jan 25 2015

Passing inspection at the DMV


In line for inspection at the Department of Mutant Vehicles

In line for inspection at the Department of Mutant Vehicles

I’ve often said, because I believe it to be true: A mutant vehicle is a hole in the playa into which you pour money, blood and tears. But it’s still a goddamn mutant vehicle.

There’s nothing so thrilling and rewarding as crawling through the inspection line at the Department of Mutant Vehicles at Burning Man, and realizing you’re surrounded by hundreds of other deluded crackpot engineers hard-working creative mutant-vehicle builders who are also transitioning from the hardest part of the journey to the most wonderful reward: Driving an art car on open playa, bringing your madness into the world.

Inspection went swiftly and painlessly – and sent us off into the wild night with full permission to drive no faster than 5mph completely sober with lasers, high-watt floodlights, strobes and propane bombs flashing in ones eyes – while simultaneously avoiding running down all the drunks, darkwads and overly-enthusiastic hippies who seem to delight in suddenly flinging themselves in front of our four-ton vehicle.


DMV hottie attaches the coveted and hard-to-earn night-driving permit

DMV hottie attaches the coveted and hard-to-earn night-driving permit next to the daytime permit we earned in an earlier inspection.

Jan 25 2015

Rebuilding The Light Fandango on playa


The Light Fandango parked at Swing City

The Light Fandango parked at Swing City

The trick with a mutant vehicle like XyloVan is that you have to disassemble everything you spent many weeks building, and then rebuild it on-playa in Nevada’s unforgiving Black Rock Desert in a reasonable amount of time.

Last time (when we built Janus) the build crew was, um, me. I had a few hours help on setup, but I worked mostly solo for 2-1/2 18-hour days and by the end I was exhausted, cooked, a mess.

This time around, I had an excellent build crew – Thanks to Sam Hiatt, Julie Demsey, Lindsay VanVoorhis, Anna Metcalf and Jeremiah Peisert, as well as my kids, Biomass and Hitgirl – and the mutation from XyloVan to The Light Fandango took just 10-1/2 hours.

We bolted the pre-cut 1-inch EMT tubing frame together atop the already-assembled passenger cage with U-clamps. Then we installed the front wheel covers.

We sleeved the theatrical lighting-scrim panels onto the three sections of pre-bent conduit (thanks for the bend-expertise, Bender!), and used long poles with plywood hooks at the end to hoist the sections into the air and bolt them to the ends of the 14 struts sticking out from the framework.

At this point, a massive storm system came in – shutting down the playa to traffic, and shutting down our work party for a good 18 hours. We left the sleeved halo in place, but kept the fabric all furled up, which was a good move because the 50-60-mph winds would have thrashed it to pieces.

Once the storm passed and things dried out a bit, we unfurled and draped the fabric, installed the 10 carefully-tailored shrouds to hide the Ford ClubWagon XLT’s gorgeously brutish 1985 bodywork, and tied everything down with a Frankensteinian mess of cord and used Rob DeHart’s genius-magic trick of bunching the fabric around tennis balls tied to the frame.

We plugged in the 14 chandeliers and hung them from the strut tips with carabiners (thanks to Kristina, Christo and Lee for their tireless assembly work a few weeks earlier!)

And then we plugged in the LED strips – which promptly showed some kind of electrical fault by glowing all red, and only red. Our genius Arduino expert Spencer Hochberg quickly isolated the fault, we rerouted some power, and gorgeousness ensued. (thanks, Spencer!)

And we had fun and managed to avoid heatstroke while doing it. The miracle of playa teamwork and good friends.

Nov 17 2014

Our bumpy, gnarly, hair-raising road to Burning Man 2014


loadedI’m writing this months later.

The dust has settled. XyloVan and crew have made a truly epic appearance at Burning Man in late August. And we have survived.

It’s only now – after taking time to unpack, clean up, de-stress, re-enter the default world and process all the wild stuff that we experienced – that I have the strength to share the nasty, hair-raising saga of our stagger-step journey from Los Angeles to the playa.

Friends of XyloVan may remember the 2013 breakdown that led to this year’s Indiegogo fundraiser and our amazing resurrection and team-powered facelift.

But most of you missed out on the panic, noise, danger and gnarliness that ensued. Here, at last, are all the gory details … Continue reading

Aug 20 2014

This wiring business is complicated ‘n’ stuff


lights_spencernrinaAs I mentioned before the only way to build a really interesting mutant vehicle is to either be a genius or work with geniuses.

Lucky me, I’m in the latter camp: Spencer and Rina continued hooking up the elaborate Arduino-run LED array this week.

lights_harnessThe trick was bringing the mass of wires coming down from the deck harness – four poles each (power, ground, data, clock) for each of the 12 lightbars – into the van to connect with the Arduino board and the controller.

The trick was bringing the mass of wires coming down from the deck harness – four poles each (power, ground, data, clock) for each of the 12 lightbars – into the van to connect with the Arduino board and the controller.

conduitholeTo do this, I drilled a one-inch hole (okay, a series of holes that I ground out to be just over an inch in diameter) into the driver’s-side door pillar and through the inside paneling to a spot just below the driver’s seatbelt.

conduitsThen I mounted a rear-access conduit body into the pillar, just below the existing one that carries sound cable and wiring for the original lighting system.

Once I pulled all 48 wires through the hole (after sleeving the inside with a protective chunk of bicycle inner-tube) Rina and Spencer went to work hooking up the Arduino.

spencer_rinaThis took many hours of patient work by flashlight, the two of them crunched up around the driver’s seat, screwing down terminals and soldering where necessary.

lights_photoA job well done deserves to be photographed.

solderingWhile they continued on with soldering connectors to wiring harnesses for the underbody lighting, I crawled under the van and suspended lightbars there on both sides between the wheels, under the front bumper, and under the boarding deck in the rear.

lightbarsThen we plugged everything and ran some tests.

lights_colorHere we have the sign and some of the underbody wiring – still to be connected on-playa to the front-wheel shrouds – running in multiple colors.
lights_wheelThe lighting looked glorious reflected in the racing-disc wheel covers I had installed earlier.

goodieboxTo cap everything off, Spencer fabricated a nifty control box with a toggle switch at top for selecting the lighting circuits for roof/canopy and underbody, a pair of next/back pushbuttons for selecting a particular animation, and a mysterious chromed knob labeled only “MAGIC.”

At this point, I’m giddy – half with exhaustion and half with delirious excitement at what the whole thing will look like at night after we assemble it on-playa.

Aug 19 2014

Sex-appeal – Installing the wheel covers


wheelcoverAs I write now after the burn, aware of what was to befall them in our tumultuous trip to the playa, it pains me to see these gorgeous wheel covers.

But at the time they were gorgeous, and once we get the wheels rebalanced and the covers reinstalled with plenty of insulating/gripping silicone caulk, they will be gorgeous once again.

wheelcover_tappingThis involved a couple of days of futzing and fiddling – I bought the wrong sized wheel covers at first from Hubcap Mike, and wound up drilling a bunch of holes in the wrong places in a way that would ensure failure.

The best method for mounting these – since the wheels have to be drilled for mounting holes – is to get the wheels off the vehicle, the tires off the wheels, the wheels set up flat on a table top – and to do it all in a well-lit, well-equipped shop.

Since they’re bigass wheels with 8 lugnuts each on a multi-ton vehicle that no shop with a lift would take for any amount of love or money, I did it instead in the driveway – with the wheels and tires still on the van – using a power drill to grind three precisely-located holes through the steel lip of each wheel without puncturing the sidewall behind it, then tapping the holes for 10-32 screws.


wheelcoversAfter many sweaty hours and not a small amount of foul language, I managed to get them mounted.

They looked pretty good.

Aug 13 2014

Time to refresh the mallets


malletsOur mallets are made from fiberglass rods, which we secure from a company in Georgia that supplies whip antennas for dune buggies, patient among other things.

The hard mallets – best used on the high keys and gongs – are simply dipped multiple times in PlastiDip, a liquid vinyl that needs to be refreshed on an annual basis, as it tends to harden too much.

The soft mallets are skinnier, sometimes hollow fiberglass rods, tipped with rubber high-bounce balls and also dipped in PlastiDip.

Hitgirl handles the duties here.