September 10th, 2005

ECC, TradeMark, Thimbletron

Burning Man 2005 Wrap-Up

Burning Man 2005: Complete.

Phew!

er, let me emphasize that: PHEW!!!

I've been back for a few days but have already hit the ground running. I'm trying to press the pause button on my life for a moment so I can just briefly post about what all went down. Pictures will hopefully be forthcoming... I took many (as well as a lot of video) with my new digital camera, but haven't had the moment to even look back at them yet, let alone put them in a web-viewable form...

A lot of my time was spent working with BMIR, Burning Man's radio station. Because of the size of the event, Burning Man is actually required by the Bureau of Land Management (who federal agency who "licenses" the use of the land to Burning Man) to have a number of emergency measures in place, so the radio station was born. Last year I jumped on board, along with Eric Myers (who my Ohio friends will remember as the founder of the Mad Lab alternative theater space). Together we started shifting the station's focus from a radio station playing only announcements with some music on automated software (no live DJs) to this year's format: 10-12 hours of live programming every day, peppered with nearly a dozen daily short programs (I'll explain in a moment). Now instead of just some mandatory requirement, the station is becoming a real reflection and representation of the Burning Man community. Yay!

The short programs we put together were very short, only 2-3 minutes long for each, but with different episodes for each weekday. With around 10 of these new programs, an episode a day meant writing/recording/producing/editing about 50 segments -- phew! Eric and I mostly split the writing duties; I ended up doing the recording/editing/producting of almost all of them. Which is fine; I can edit things pretty quickly. In fact, I think Eric never quite completed editing the one series he had to do. (Pity too; it was one of the best: "Surreal World: Black Rock City") The ones that did get on the air went over well, though. They included:


  • Art Car Talk (parody of NPR's Car Talk, where brothers Ick and Ack debate the aesthetic qualities of various art cars)

  • The Nudist Chef (parody of Food Network's show Naked Chef, where an actual naked chef provides desert cooking tips)

  • This Playa Life (parody of NPR's This American Life, in title anyway -- read below about the content)

  • Ask Miss Burning Manners (playa etiquette tips)

  • Theme Camps of the Rich and Famous (parody of the 80's TV show Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous)

  • Traffic Reports (helicopter traffic reports... for a city with almost no cars)


...and a handful of others. They were all great fun to do. "This Playa Life" became my long-awaited repository for a project I'd started years ago as the "Automated Hobo Project", where I'd get cheap tape recorders, put fresh batteries and a blank tape in each, and paint instructions for people to record something and pass it on. I'd give it away, have people pass it on, and hoped it would come back later (my return address would be on there in some form or another). Since Burning Man is an enclosed and fairly participative community, I'd get back quite a few (say, 3 out of 5) so I've built up some good recordings over the years. The best of these became "This Playa Life", edited together with a suitably earnest sounding Ira Glass-esque intro and outro.

On top of the above, I also put together a series of station ID spots, which are very short (5 seconds, tops) bits that identify and announce the station. These are tougher than you think, because the ideal ID will encapsulate as much of the station's "personality" or major stylistic aspects in that short time. I'm kinda proud of mine, if I may say -- although they almost sound too slick for a 30 watt radio station in the middle of the desert, I think they peg Burning Man's feel nicely. It also was a chance for us to start pushing a mild makeover we had in mind for the radio station -- to move away from the "Information" identity (which is the "I" in BMIR). So now, instead of being "BMIR - Burning Man Information Radio", we're now "BMIR - The Voice of The Man". ("The Man" being either the burning man himself, but since we're the only official radio station of Burning Man, you can also take it as "the voice of The Man", a la the 60's "The Man", the voice of authority... you get it).

Eric and I would be more of the creative contributors to the station, you might say -- in addition to the above segments, we also did daily live radio shows. Eric's girl Carmen is the organizational/managerial lead for the station, and there are others that do technical work (hi Boy Scout!), volunteer coordination, and so on; but the three of us are the ones that were there every day and almost certainly put in the most work.

But it wasn't just about the radio -- Christy and I were camped as part of Gooferville (brainchild of band Gooferman, with live performances many nights), so we also had responsibilities with there as well as the responsibility of setting up our own personal camp area, which is no small task. Big props to Christy for covering a lot of my responsibilities towards Gooferville, letting me handle radio station matters instead.

There's a zillion more stories to tell, but it's probably easier to read them in installments. Plus, I think it's time for a breakfast break. Next time I'll write a bit about what it's like to be mostly - but not completely - cut off from civilization when natural disaster strikes. Rumors abound!
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