Sep 12 2022

Gong Fights at Burning Man 2022


Gong Fight: I wanted to bring something fast, loud, and stupid to the playa this year. Something that was portable, easy to make and use, and memorable. (photo gallery below!)

You know the sound a steel mixing bowl makes when you strike its edge? I love the round, BONGing resonance of it. So:

Equipment: I built two sets of armor from raw materials found at Goodwill and our local hardware store:

  • Two sets of old football or hockey shoulder pads
  • Two old bike helmets
  • About 14-16 steel bowls
  • Assorted bolts, washers, nuts, wingnuts, and bushings
  • About 6 feet of light chain
  • Two superball-tipped, vinyl-dipped, fiberglass pairs of mallets
  • The Septagon – seven linked lengths of painted 1×2 pine on the playa floor to contain the fights.
  • 1 overhead scoop light for atmosphere
  • 1 amazing camp tower at OKNOTOK, the legs of which were roped off as the ring.

Safety gear:

  • Goggles
  • Gauntlets made of polycarbonate sheet
  • Earplugs for all fighters! (that shit gets loud, even in testing)


  • Overall:
    • No intentional blows to the face
    • No intentional blows to the ‘nads
    • If you step outside the Septagon (or you’re pushed), you lose
  • Fight with Violence (see video):
    • Strike the chest or head gong (fitted with chains, to make a distinct noise) to earn points
    • 15 points takes the round
    • 3 rounds wins the fight
  • OR fight with Art (see video):
    • Fighters must strike each other’s armor as musically, creatively, uniquely, balletically as possible
    • You have 60 seconds
    • The crowd judges the winner.

Gong Fights exceeded my wildest dreams! The ferocity of the Violence Fighters, the grace of the Art Fighters, and the the idiot noise and chaos overran all rational concerns, and a kind of animal fervor took over.

It was stupidly magnificent, and magnificently stupid. Thank you especially to Mr. OK, Michelle, Lydia, Dakota, Thor, Sumit, Dandelion, Drift, Jackson, TwoNames, HoneyBear, Mike, Special Snowflake, and everyone else who armored and scored and assisted and fought and danced and hooted and lost and won.

13/10, will do it again.

(photos by Sumit Jamuar, video by @brian_huy_mac and @z_antibeersnob)


Sep 10 2022

Gong Fights at Burning Man 2022 – Fighting with VIOLENCE!


Sep 10 2022

Gong Fights at Burning Man 2022 – Fighting with ART!


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