Winter Walking at Burning Man

UNPOP sound stage at Burning Man, August 2022, 3:00am

The gifts of this Fulbright continue to lead in new and unexpected directions. Scott Smallwood, the Director of Sound Studies at the University of Alberta who taught me the basics of working with sound in an 8-channel format and helped me mix a piece last spring, annually creates a sound stage at Burning Man in Nevada. The stage operates only during the night, given the heat of the August desert sun, and facilitates a listening experience for 8-channel pieces. Tarp walls and blue lights enclose a space out the playa, where burners congregate in the dark night to listen to hours of a curated, experimental playlist. Scott generously invited me to submit my Winter Walking piece to play at this year’s festival.

This week he sent me a report-

I wanted to let you know that I am fresh off the playa, and still recovering from a mound of email – but I have some quick news about your piece.  Our UNPOP installation at Burning Man went REALLY well, and we played music every night of the event all night long – 6:30 PM to 7 AM.  The piece was madly popular.  We had over 95 compositions this year, and because the piece was SO far out on deep playa, very far from our camp, we were only able to visit and check on it a few times – once or twice per evening – plus starting/stopping.  Therefore, it was completely impossible to hear every piece in situ.

However, one night I rode out on my bike at about 3 AM, and your piece was playing.  It was such a beautiful moment.  The sky was dark and moonless, but the stars were bright, and the distant city was vibrant and pumping.  It was warm and the wind was low, not too dusty.  Inside the piece there were about 15 people standing and sitting, listening to your piece with rapt attention.  As the piece progressed, more people came in while some others left.  I could hear your footsteps, and some laughed at the juxtaposition of the snowy steps and the dusty playa.  Your words were clear.

It was a neat moment, and I just wanted to let you know that it was magical!

Some listeners gathered around a speaker at UNPOP sound stage, Burning Man, August 2022, 3:00am

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