Disco Inferno (Burn Baby Burn)

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North America » United States » Nevada » Black Rock Desert
September 3rd 2011
Published: June 28th 2012
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One day late birthday party on the playa. I'm in the blue hat

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Today, I woke up in the early afternoon.

That shade cover is worth every second of the assembly effort I needed.

I’ve adapted to life in Black Rock City at this point.

I quickly got another lesson on playa adaptability and planning.

Remember the extra tape I bought as a repair tool?

The pieces of the cover have big flaps due to the imprecision cutting with a camp knife (see The Meaning of Radical Self Reliance).

The wind pushes those flaps, and the force was large enough to fray the fabric around the twist ties, even with the gorilla tape.

Thankfully, only one has come loose, but I still need to do something about it.

I ultimately taped the entire seam with multiple layers of tape.

It should hold two days with careful monitoring.


Heart of The CityHeart of The CityHeart of The City

Heart of the City by Kiki Kaboodle and Heliarc
finally celebrated my birthday today.

I held the party at Autosub, since I know so many members from Boston area events.

Since this is Burning Man, the person having the birthday has to bring the gift 😊

I brought a bottle of champagne, which nearly exploded on opening (even after cooling it the last few days).

Bubbly has a big kick in the desert, and I passed out on a couch afterward.

I found the famous Burning Man post office. (WARNING: Not Safe For Work)

Black Rock City is a full city, with its own radio station, newspapers, (WARING: May be offensive) post office, and FAA authorized airport.

Every last one is created by volunteers.

The post office people deliver mail to camps via bicycle, and take outgoing mail to Gerlach.

They have free postcards of Burning Man as gifts, which I filled with a birthday greeting and sent home.

The day would not be complete without more playa art.

One piece consisted of two large roses made of steel, entwined to create a large heart.

It is Heart of the City by married sculptors Kiki Kaboodle and Heliarc, who
Cupcake carsCupcake carsCupcake cars

The cupcakes, some of Burning Man's most famous art cars
first met at Burning Man.

Next up are sculptures that could only exist at Burning Man (or a similar event), the Garden of Rockets by Christopher Schardt.

It consists of three kinetic sculptures powered by flame throwers!

None of them were turned on, since I saw them in the middle of the day.

Finally, near these sits Let’s Fly A Bike, by Boston’s own Douglas Ruuska.

This participatory sculpture contains a bicycle attached to a long lever.

Someone hops on the bike and other people raise it up with the lever and swing them around.

I saw one of the best Art Cars today, the cupcakes!

Many years ago, someone covered a tricycle with a frame shaped like a cupcake, which leaves just enough space for the rider.

The bikes have been a fixture at Burning Man ever since.

These versions looked like Claes Oldenburg sculptures, detailed and luscious enough to eat!

The Man Burns

Black Rock City officially exists for a single event.

It happens tonight, when the man burns.

Whether through extreme luck or just naiveté, I headed toward the man statue right at
Playa sunsetPlaya sunsetPlaya sunset

Sunset over Black rock City, waiting for the man to burn

I reached a rope on the ground where I could go no further.

A number of other people were huddled there.

It turns out these are the best spots available to general attendees.

I have a rather long wait ahead.

A group of people offered space on a tarp to keep off the dust.

We swapped food and chatted about the week as light faded.

The playa at sunset looks magical.

As night took over the playa, a procession in tunics slowly walked across the desert toward us.

These are the Lamplighters, who light the little towers that radiate from the man each night.

This night, they are followed by a group of people holding huge torches, and then groups carrying fire performance tools and drums.

The latter groups and the torch holders spread out until they surrounded the man.

By now, night has fully fallen.

For the entire week, the man sculpture has its arms down at its sides, like the sculpture is walking forward (toward the entrance road, it turns out).

With the torch bearers
Fire ConclaveFire ConclaveFire Conclave

A tiny portion of the Fire Conclave before the man burns
in place, the arms raise above its head.

The man now gestures in triumph, in the grip of some ecstatic moment.

That’s one way of describing the burn that follows.

To start things off, the ground around the man becomes filled with artistic fire.

Burning Man attracts lots of fire performers.

Many of them perform in groups as well as individually.

The Burning Man organizers select a number of these groups to perform around the Man before the burn itself, the Fire Conclave.

The people in the Conclave have considerable skill.

What puts this above individual performances like Fire Idol (see The Autonomous World) is the intricate choreography.

Every performer does their work in relation to others in the group, often standing right next to each other.

The flames blend into an ever changing spectacle, almost alive.

The performers are accompanied by musicians on tribal drums.

While they are performing, every art car on the playa forms a huge circle around the people watching the show.

Soon after the Conclave finishes, red sparklers shoot out of the base
Burning man fireworksBurning man fireworksBurning man fireworks

Fireworks explode as the man prepares to meet his end
of the man.

The crowd cheers.

These are followed by bursts of flashing dots.

Next huge starbursts fly over the sculpture.

More flashing dots appear, faster and faster.

Fireworks cannons at the base go off, shooting flaming bursts into the air.

Next up is a huge wall of flashing dots, followed by yet more starbursts overhead.

Dots, cannon bursts, and starbursts fly faster and faster until they light up the playa.

This show is as good as the one at the Chicago Navy Pier (see Chicago Gives me the Blues) and I’m sitting closer.

Just when it seems things could not get more intense, a gas explosion lights up the base under the man.

Little bits of it begin to burn.

Sparklers then explode out of the man, and it starts to burn.

The crowd cheers some more.

The fireworks truly pour out at this point, culminating with a huge wall of flashing dots with starbursts above.

These are followed by a wave of light and heat from the REAL base explosion, the type normally only seen in action movies as the hero runs away!
Base explosionBase explosionBase explosion

The base of the man explodes with more fireworks above

With that, the entire sculpture is burning.

The fire spreads to the fireworks launch points, which send up one last wave of dots and big starbursts as they are consumed.

The burning of the man is on.

The sculpture took a long time to burn.

Slowly but surely, bits of the man fell off into the burning base.

What remained got thinner and thinner.

Finally, one leg broke and the man fell.

The crowd broke out in ecstatic cheers.

Many people stuck around afterward to watch the base fall.

The safety crew finally pulled it down using large metal cables.

At this point, people surged toward the fire.

Traditionally, people run around it.

The crowd is now so big that the run was actually a slow hot walk.

I made sure to memorize the closest art cars before I headed in so I could reorient myself after the walk.

Burning Man Nights

Many camps hold celebrations after the man burns.

I spent the night wandering the city, taking in whatever seems interesting.

Musically, the
The base fallsThe base fallsThe base falls

The base of the man gives off flames as the safety crew brings it down
effect was the same as wandering from stage to stage at Movement (see Children of the Night, Step Into the Light); an endless sea of people, sights, and sensations.

Burning Man has the same diverse accepting atmosphere, minus the vendors and the candy ravers.

I saw some more special art cars, including one designed as a giant pair of wind up teeth.

Near the end of the night, I wandered into the AEZ bar.

AEZ stands for Alternative Energy Zone.

Camps in this area pledge to use no fossil fuel for the week.

Burning Man participants collectively use hundreds of diesel generators, so that is no small promise.

The bar was lit by battery powered lights with a large fire in front in a big pot to avoid scarring the desert.

The bartenders, who run a real bar in the default world, were very good.

I had some of their beer, and then donated some of mine.


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