Category Archives: Burning Man 2011

Kids, darkwads, dubstep and jerks – A little feedback to the Borg on Burning Man 2011

There’s a fascinating thread over at the Burning Man Blog inviting feedback on this year’s burn. The Burning Man Organization (variously known as BMORG or the Borg) asked for feedback, and got an earful – on everything from the joys of big art and gifting to the miseries of unwanted noise and the hellacious exodus ordeal.

Here’s my two cents:


– Eight burns since ’96 (covered it for the L.A. Times back in the day, then fell down the rabbit hole and never looked back)
– Five burns since ’05 with our son (now 11) and daughter (now 10)
– Second year with a major art installation (XyloVan)
– First year with a mutant vehicle (Xylovan–>JANUS)
– Residents of Kidsville
– Virgins hosted – numerous
– Art car passengers transported – too many to count
– Darkwads almost run over – too many to count. You can’t legislate common sense.
– Moop collected – too much to weigh.

Forget it, Jake, it’s Burning Man.

This year was, like all the years before it, the Best Ever, thanks to the massive creativity of the artists, the warmth and intelligence of the great number of burners we shared time with, and hell – the weather was pure butter.

From reading the entire thread, BM2011 also seems to have been the source of a huge amount of glowing compliments, anxious complaints and bitter rants – as it always is …

Continue reading Kids, darkwads, dubstep and jerks – A little feedback to the Borg on Burning Man 2011

Burning Man 2011 – Mutant Vehicle pro tips from a first-timer

Sadder. Wiser. Exhausted. Dazzled.

After building and piloting JANUS at Burning Man 2011 and living to tell the tale (Full build log here) I’ll go out on a limb to say this: Bringing a pre-approved mutant vehicle to the playa for the very first time in your life virtually guarantees that:

  • You will work your ass off
  • You will develop calluses, cuts, burns, bruises, muscle spasms and contusions in places you never thought possible
  • You will lose weight, grow muscle and pick up dangerous new skills (say, plunge-cutting plywood with a power saw just inches from your femoral artery)
  • You will empty your wallet far faster than you planned
  • You will – during that period – doubt:
    • your mechanical skills
    • the quality of your design
    • the solidity of your construction
    • your ability to finish in time for the Saturday burn, let alone in time to let you enjoy it at all during the week
    • your chances of escaping without a huge mechanical breakdown, catastrophic fire or horrible injury to your passengers, your crew or yourself
    • your ability to even get a grudging nod, much less a license from the mighty Department of Mutant Vehicles once you’re done
    • your sanity
  • You will show up on the playa having forgotten several critical tools, parts or methods for making it go
  • You will run out of screws, female plugs, butt splices or some other vital, impossible-to-find-on-the-playa supply
  • You will – after looking at other brilliant mutant vehicles around you – hate your design
  • You will vow never to let your hubris con you into such a foolish and exhausting enterprise again
  • You will finish hours – if not days – later than you had planned
  • You will make something bigger and more extraordinary in real life than you had even imagined during the design phase
  • You will be invited to bribe the DMV inspector – and out of desperation you will hope that your offer of a handmade gift-with-keychain-light is not too paltry when the signs say they clearly favor PBR
  • You will be told sniffily, “We’ll let you pass this year, but next year come back with more lights”
  • But you WILL get both your day and night licenses
  • You will remain completely sober (and swallow your tongue several times at the wheel) during the entire week, not because of the many repeated threats that law enforcement can bust you, confiscate your vehicle, kick you out of the event and send you to court in Reno. No, you’ll avoid any intoxicants – even a sip of beer – because at any second, without warning, deeply wasted Burners will lunge into your path, drive alongside you, climb onto your tailgate, bang on your vehicle, march around without lights directly in front of you, cause you to slam on your brakes and generally do everything suicidally possible within inches of your front bumper to ensure you have a heart attack or three
  • You will drive in tense, bitter silence for hours, hating shirt-cockers, sparkle ponies, propane flares, darkwads, moon boots, drum circles, techno, dubstep, neon, mutant vehicles and everything else Burning Man
  • You will vow never to do this again – and maybe skip Burning Man for the next nine years because it almost killed you
  • You will (however) slowly relax
  • You’ll smile – hey, I made it! People seem to be enjoying it! And – despite your charred, curmudgeonly attitude – you’ll start to really enjoy yourself too.
  • Burners will come up and interact with your vehicle – climbing happily aboard, playing your instruments, turning your little cranks, begging you to blast your flame effects (if you have ’em)
  • Kids will shout with joy on seeing you
  • Grownups will too – or at least they’ll say aloud “WTF is that???” and you won’t mind because at least you made ’em think
  • Other mutant vehicle pilots will honk (or blast) and wave, locking eyes with the look that says “I know what you went through – because I did, too.”
  • You will offer rides out to the majestic desolation of the unpopulated, art-free deep playa just because you can
  • You will climb onto your vehicle’s roof and enjoy the view, 20 feet off the ground – of your family and crew grooving on the waves of mutant vehicles, Burners, art and wildness surging around you at major burns (the scene at theTrojan Horse burn was particularly great)
  • You will happily give tours to total strangers, some of whom will thank you profusely and sincerely for showing them them things they never would have seen on foot or from the saddle of a bike
  • You will discover corners of Black Rock City you never knew existed
  • You will stand on your roof with family and friends on Burn night and howl with the glee of a 5-year-old and curse with the vigor of a drunken sailor as the Man goes up in a shower of fireworks, gouts of flame, and the boom of green-tinged propane bombs
  • You will spend 10 hours breaking down your mutation for transport (unless you were wise and rich enough to dedicate a non-transport vehicle to your project)
  • You will drive home wondering what the hell that was all about
  • You will immediately begin dreaming of your next design.

Here’s the full build log for the JANUS portion of XyloVan:

Below are photos of some other mutant vehicles (including the gobsmacking El Pulpo Mecanico, which hands-down WON Burning Man this year). I also posted photos of some of JANUS’ passengers, including the wonderful residents of Kidsville – and random bits of art.

Fifteen years and eight burns after I first tried to explain it, Burning Man still leaves me beggared for words. But building JANUS made me appreciate the worth of keeping my wrenches arrayed by size, making sure I had enough wire, and being deeply grateful for all the good friends who helped make this vehicle happen:

My long-suffering wife Kristina, David (the architect) and Marcelle, who generously donated heavy labor and painted the Janus medallions for front and back, Dave LaF, Alan and John for initial construction logistics; Marcus and Larry for on-playa muscle when I was about to lose it; Mac, Tina, Bernie and everyone at Big Art Labs for tools, welding, moral support and good cheer, and my right-hand kids, Cooper(Biomass) and Miranda (Hitgirl) for showing they know the value of hard work – thanks to all of you for supporting this whacked-out dream.

Burning Man 2011 – Panoramarama

The vast expanse of the plana lends itself to cinematic views. You find yourself wandering around the desert like David Lean, previsualizing shots for “Lawrence of Arabia.”

I used to hand-stitch photos together in Photoshop from whatever digital snapshot camera I was using, which was horribly time-consuming. This year, I discovered the iPhone app 360 Panorama – which lets you basically scan an entire 360-degree panorama within about a minute (or 90 seconds at night) and then automatically stitches the images together and uploads them. The results can be kind of kludgy at times – edges don’t mesh well if you spin imperfectly, or if your iPhone vignettes photos at night.

But I like the immersive feel you get when viewing them on the Web – or on your iOS device – it’s like a window into another world. Click the thumbnails here, then click-drag the images on Occipital’s site. (*hit the back button to return here)

360 Panorama: Self-portrait inside JANUS – Waiting for the Department of Mutant Vehicles to inspect and clear us for nighttime driving.

360 Panorama: JANUS and other vehicles in line in the DMV inspection lanes.

A quiet evening in Center Camp

360 Panorama: JANUS and other mutant vehicles at the Temple of Transition.

Another view of JANUS at the temple with the excellent submarine vehicle (at left)

360 Panorama: The Temple of Transition

360 Panorama: The Kidsville tour circles up between JANUS and the Temple.

360 Panorama: A romantic afternoon

360 Panorama: The Circle of Regional Effigies – wooden structures and sculptures built and then burned at once by 23 regional Burning Man communities from around the world. Our own Los Angeles was represented by SCARAB, a food truck that served snow cones and chips to burners before being burned on Thursday night.

360 Panorama: Before any major burn, mutant vehicles gather on the playa like fishing boats circling a fruitful patch of ocean. Here, JANUS and the submarine join others ringing the site of the Trojan Horse burn.

Thronged by burners and mutant vehicles, the Trojan Horse – all 5,600 pounds of it – goes up in flames.

360 Panorama – a sunny afternoon in Center Camp

360 Panorama – The Man, about to burn.

360 Panorama – the Man burns

360 Panorama – Tearing down JANUS and striking camp – a day-long affair. The work was long and hard (we went from about 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.) but the weather was gentle, and the dust not too bad.

360 Panorama – Exodus. Tens of thousands of vehicles stream towards the exit – basically eight lanes of cars, driving through the dust and the night towards a pinch-point one lane wide that lets them out onto the main road back through Gerlach. Timed right, you can be on the road in 20 minutes. Timed wrong – when most people are leaving – it can stretch to 3 or 4 hours. We stopped in Center Camp to get drinks right after the Temple Burn on Sunday night this year, and so escaped to the road in about 2 hours.

Music in the night

The beauty of sharing a huge musical mutant vehicle is that – at any moment – something like this can happen:

… or this …

… or this …

… or this …

Thanks to THAT Damned Band, Titanium Sporkestra,
, and all the musicians – trained, wild and accidental – who breathed life into XyloVan when we weren’t around to enjoy. You’re the reason we built it, and you’re welcome to play it any time you like.

Built, spun and burnt – first panoramas from Burning Man 2011

Back in Silver Lake two days after leaving the playa, and I’m still foggy and bedazzled: That was the biggest, hardest, most invigorating burn we’ve ever had in eight residencies on the playa since 1996.

XyloVan/JANUS took two and a half sweaty, sometimes lonesome days to build (my deepest thanks to David, Marcelle, Marcus and Larry for pitching in so hard), and once we got our DMV licenses, we had a blast bringing music, mystery and magical rides to the people of Black Rock City.

The city has changed, the culture has changed, and we have changed. Many more thoughts (and photos and video) to follow, but for now, here are some panoramas that show off XyloVan/JANUS in its natural habitat.


I chose blue to counterpoint XyloVan’s shiny aluminum keyboards – I had in mind a Moroccan blue – sort of ashy, like it had been fading for a while …

so it’s four boxes of Royal Blue to one box of Denim, and then it’s a matter of shoving all that fabric into that one tiny tub.

Once saturated, it fit in just fine.

Here’s the left-front panel. Why do I fear that – when I get the lace up over the vehicle’s “eyes” – I will have become some sort of van seamstress, forever building art cars and my latest model will be a laughingstock because it resembles a massive burkha. (shudder)

I laid out the panels on the lawn to dry – then when they were partway there, I pulled them up to the deck railing.

Here’s what that looked like just beforehand.

And here’s what you get when you dye without gloves on.

We’re going to Burning Man. Again!

Now all we have to do is finish building Janus, the Celestial Player Piano around XyloVan in time!

Here’s what XyloVan looked like on the playa last year.

And here’s the official Department of Mutant Vehicles acceptance letter, which just came in last night:

DMV Registration Acceptance Letter 2011


Mutant Vehicle: Janus, the Celestial Player Piano
Registration #: M11-0924
Owner: Mack Reed

This is an invitation to bring your Mutant Vehicle to Burning Man 2011 for on-playa inspection. THIS IS NOT YOUR LICENSE, NOR DOES IT GRANT YOU ONE. Actual licenses are granted in Black Rock City when, and if, you pass the on-playa inspection.

This letter confirms that you passed the first level of inspection; read on for important information about what is next …

Continue reading We’re going to Burning Man. Again!

The freshing of the mallets

Making mallets is very slow work. (Video)

First, we buy 50 (fifty) 30-mm bouncyballs …

Then we drill 11/64-inch holes in them …

And stick them onto 16-inch-long rods of 3/8-inch (and 1/4-inch) fiberglass, procured from a Max-Gain Systems, a very friendly radio-antenna-supply house in Georgia (thanks, Google) …

After dipping (about which, more below) the blue ones look like this …

We make the soft mallets blue (to tell them apart from the hard, yellow sticks). Soft mallets work best on the lowest keys, where the soft hit of the bouncyball heads brings out the lower dominant tones of the metal. Hit those low keys with the hard sticks and all you hear is nasty overtones rather than the dominants.

Likewise, using the soft, blue mallets on the shorter upper keys and the disc gongs on XyloVan’s doors results in a muted tone. Those keys like to be hammered with the hard yellow sticks. Someday we’ll have to post a demo video to demonstrate. Either that, or you’ll have to find XyloVan and try it out yourself. ;D

We use PlastiDip, a fast-drying liquid vinyl compound …

The 3/8 “hard” sticks have no balls (yes, that’s a straight line) and so take multiple dips so that we build up a nice, reslient tip …

So, we’re still dipping …

As you’ll see in the (video), you have to wait a few seconds after each dip to let the excess drain off so that you don’t get drips or – even worse – the situation where the vinyl compound skins over and then sloughs off, taking most of the remaining liquid with it.

We stick them up to long strips of duct tape, which hold them long enough to dry …

And then eventually fail, dropping the dried sticks to the floor overnight.

More work to come!

XyloVan to undergo full mutation


Yep. Last year’s DMV rejection was a reality check for us. The Department of Mutant Vehicles is serious.

So we’re getting serious. The XyloVan crew are working to return to the playa this year with a fully-mutated version of the vehicle that will let us bring the instruments and noise around to everyone – rather than waiting in one spot in the middle of nowhere hoping people will find us.

In other words, we’re going for a full playa driving permit.

Click the sketch to see the full, mad plan:

UPDATE: Application filed. Now we wait up to 10 days. Very patiently. Got any cards?

Xylovan’s 2011 summer tour schedule

We’re starting to feel like a band here. We have gigs comin’ out our ears.

L.A. Food Truck Chowdown
Saturday, patient June 11: (late morning to 7 p.m.)
If you’re hungry and/or bored this Saturday, come down to the Los Angeles Food Truck Chowdown. XyloVan will be there along with a ton of art cars, vintage vehicles, artists, live bands, craft vendors, a video-game truck and oh, about 50 of L.A.’s best food trucks. Nice way to spend an afternoon.

Everything happens at the Cornfields (I’ll never get used to calling it the Los Angeles State Historical Park) near Chinatown. Ticket proceeds ($10) benefit the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

Film: “Journey to the Flames and Burning Man Newbie Orientation
Sunday, June 12, 2p.m.-10p.m.:
XyloVan will be joining veteran Burners all afternoon in the magnificent courtyard of the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood to welcome a screening of the latest in the L.A. League of Arts Burning Man Film Series.

Journey to the Flames” is a 10-year documentary about a group of friends gearing up, traveling to and plunging themselves into Burning Man. (Here are a few film clips.)

Burning Man founder Larry Harvey and longtime communications director Maid Marian Goodell will be on hand with filmmakers Doug Jacobson and Steve Binder for some post-movie Q&A.

The screening starts at 7:30, but people can wander through the courtyard all afternoon and evening to check out XyloVan and other slices of interactive Burning Man culture.

Burning Man newbies are most welcome to come and learn from other Burners (including us) all about playa life – including Where to Get Materials, How to Survive, Why We Do It, What Are the Secrets, and Isn’t It Really Just a Bunch of Stinkin’ Naked Hippie Drug Cases Making a Mess in the Worst Desert in North America. (No, it’s patently not!) C’mon down.

And then, of course, XyloVan will be traveling to …

Burning Man
Aug. 29-Sept. 5.

About which, more later.