disengage.ca a quest for the technomadic lifestyle


Catching Up, Part 3: Vancouver and Burning Man

Part three of four updates, in which Our Intrepid Adventurers finds themselves traveling back to Canada and Oklahoma, respectively, for six weeks. The shared camera bit the biscuit, and hence this blog post will be relying mostly on the kindnesses of others to document the happenstances throughout. As a direct result, this post probably has the most photos of me of any blog post in the recent past!

Miya had obligations in Oklahoma, while I had obligations in Vancouver, and so we spent a solid month apart - the longest we'd ever been apart, by far. I had a wedding to attend, and a month later I had another show to promote (Sequential Circus 11), so it made very little sense to leave La Paz and come back only to leave again weeks later. I booked a month's stay at the Hotel Mike & Nicola and prepared myself for a month of splendid Vancouver summer.

photo by EspressoBuzz

playing guitar at Dave+Lori's wedding - photo by EspressoBuzz

The wedding couple are somewhat fans of my music, and as such I was invited to perform not once, not twice, but THREE distinct times during their epic three-day wedding affair out on a beautiful farm on Vancouver Island. Here I'm performing during their Friday evening talent show, using a rental guitar.

I learned a valuable lesson in this photo - I had warmed up a couple of original songs and a couple of covers, and intended to ask the audience what they'd prefer to hear. I figured I had about an 90% chance that they'd say "originals", but had a few songs in reserve just in case. So, I hit the stage.

"Do you want to hear some originals, or some covers?" I asked.

"BRITTNEY SPEARS!!" came the overwhelming reply.



what happens when you put dry ice in beer

what happens when you put dry ice in beer

During the reception, I was able to solve a lifelong dilemma - we all know that dry ice in warm water creates whitish smoke that bubbles and falls, but what happens when you add dry ice to beer?

Result: non-stop cold bubbles full of white smoke, and a mess. At least with Philips Longboat Chocolate Porter, the mess was delicious.


playing techno at Dave+Lori's wedding

playing techno at Dave+Lori's wedding - photo by EspressoBuzz

The second performance was to play a seven-minute rendition of Eddie Vedder's "Rise" on the mandolin, while the bride, groom and wedding party made their way slowly down the aisle. This was trickier than it sounds, since the original song is only about two-and-a-half minutes long... a few double-length bridges and an extended outtro and everyone was happy with the results.

This photo, on the other hand, is of the third performance of the weekend, a forty-minute return to the techno of years past, when I used to perform as 'MUX' at raves, clubs and techno parties. The outdoor venue was perfect for the style, and with the help of Jim Baxter's homebuilt laser effects rig, the dancefloor got properly techno'd.


playing techno at Trancemission 15

playing techno at Trancemission 15

Two weeks later (including a rejuvenating weekend at Bass Coast out in Squamish), I was invited to perform a set at Soundproof's annual summer party, Trancemission 15 in Pemberton. Miya actually flew up from Oklahoma for the weekend, and it was an extremely nice time spent with close friends, dancing outdoors in a farmer's field.

In this photo you can clearly see my new live-pa rig, comprised of my Macbook Pro computer attached to a Livid OhmRGB MIDI controller. The OhmRGB is a fantastic bit of hardware, though intensely geeky - it can do almost anything, but you really have to program it all yourself in Python!

I also was very happy to resurrect my Nord Micro Modular synthesizer - the size of a VHS tape, it's the perfect hardware synth for a boat... the only downside was that the software programming interface has not kept up with the times, and I had to build up a Windows 95 image in VMWare in order to program it. Installing Win95 for the first time in sixteen years was a serious flashback!


more techno, this time Sequential Circus 11

more techno, this time Sequential Circus 11

Our bi-annual electronic music concert series event Sequential Circus 11 went off without a hitch, and this time I also booked myself. I shared a stage with five other talented live electronic musicians, performing to a packed house of about 150 people in a warehouse in East Vancouver. The crowd ate it up, and this was absolutely my favourite performance of the summer! Here's a third-party review, if you're interested.

I managed to get a good recording of the set also - click the orange play button to have a listen:



It's worth pointing out, in case you're unfamiliar - this sounds like DJ music, but I'm NOT A DJ. DJ's play other peoples' music; everything I play I wrote myself, using synthesizers, drum machines, effects and software.

Drew and Trent at Burning Man 2012

Trent and I at Burning Man 2012

I didn't think I would be able to make it to Burning Man this year, due to finances, but a surprise windfall from the tax man put me back in the black and when a ticket appeared within my reach I jumped at the chance.

It was great to hang out with good friends like Trent again, whom I hadn't seen in months!

The bright orange pants I'm wearing in this pic were ordered from Mascot, a Danish workwear company that recently opened up their distribution to the United States. I'll be doing a blog post on pants soon; I have a lot to say on the matter.


the Hajj, almost ready for licensing

the Hajj, almost ready for licensing

Miya, having similar financial constraints to myself, had decided earlier on that she wanted to attend Burning Man this year, and signed on with a group called 'Sacred Cow', who were building a camp of about a hundred and twenty people! This kind of camping requires some serious infrastructure, and in exchange for a free ticket and a ride to and from the desert, Miya agreed to show up in Seattle two weeks in advance, to spend a week in the city preparing supplies, a week setting up in the Black Rock Desert before Burning Man even started, and a few days in the desert after the event helping to tear down the camp!

Sacred Cow was a large camp with a middle eastern theme, and one of their bigger projects was a full-sized bus called "The Hajj", which was to be decorated like a bedouin tent and driven slowly around the desert. When I arrived, the first thing Monday morning I was assigned to a group working on getting the Hajj ready, and that project pretty much occupied the majority of my time for the next two days.

Where it got interesting was when we finally finished applying all the decorations - mostly fabrics attached to the bus with a large steel railing and series of PVC tubes - and went to the Department of Mutant Vehicles to apply for our permits. We were about 90% of the way through the inspection when a sudden windstorm came up... and the nylon tie-straps we'd used to secure the PVC pipes (I had asked for lashing wire, and someone was sent to Reno to buy some... but wires were crossed somehow and he returned with twine) started to break apart. Pieces of the Hajj started blowing across the playa, one narrowly missing one of the DMV inspectors.

"You know we can't in good conscience give you the permit the way things currently are, right?", he said. "Go back to your camp, sort this all out, and come back later to get your permit."

Fine, fine. That's what we did.


Miya with the road sign she broke off

Miya with the road sign she broke off

...but the travel back to the Sacred Cow camp wasn't without incident. Even with spotters on the roof of the Hajj and walking ahead and communicating with each other via handheld radio, driving a heavily-decorated bus around the crowded streets of Burning Man is no cakewalk. Miya, one of the only three people 'certified' to drive the bus, took a corner a little too sharply and broke off one of the road signs. Here she is posing with her trophy, right before I tracked down some long wood screws and a cordless drill and made the appropriate repairs... those roadsigns are a critical part of finding your way around in a temporary city of 50,000 people.


Jacob atop the Hajj

Jacob atop the Hajj

Jacob Stone, Miya's closest friend in Seattle, was really the reason Miya got on with the Sacred Cow group in the first place. This was Jacob's first year actually getting to stay at Burning Man, though he'd been there for the week-prior setup in 2011. Miya and I shared a hexayurt with Jacob, a desert-proof hexagonal structure made from panels of polyisocyanurate - I know this word because it is printed on the inside panels of the yurt, and I took it upon myself to memorize it! The yurts are essentially panels of insulating foam held together with industrial duct-tape, and very little else past that.

I have to say, this was my seventh time at Burning Man, and my first not camping in a tent. I was a little suspicious of the hexayurt movement, but after sleeping past noon on several occasions, I'm convinced that they're the best, most comfortable sleeping setup for Burning Man. Miya actually built several of the camp's hexayurts as a part of her advance-team projects for Sacred Cow.


Drew, Miya and a spork

Drew, Miya and a spork

This photo is pretty much representative of your typical Burning Man day-outing - of  note in this photo is Miya's bird-skull headdress that she made in the days following the boatyard, using her new-found fiberglass skills. She made a mold of the skull using tinfoil and masking tape, sprayed it down with Pam cooking spray and then laid up fiberglass over top. Some cleanup work with a Dremel tool and some added flowers later, she was left with the work of art you see above.

The spork is unrelated.


random pro-photographer shot

random pro-photographer shot

At the 3:00 Keyhole, we stumbled across a professional photographer, shooting some kind of large-format Polaroid-type film, where the photo was taken and available for viewing seconds later. He had a gorgeous gallery of photos set up outside, and almost no lineup, so Miya and I jumped at the chance. This has been my profile pic on Facebook ever since!



an afternoon bartending at Distrikt

an afternoon bartending at Distrikt

One of my favourite parts of Burning Man is working the bar at Distrikt, and this year was no exception... Distrikt is known as the premiere daytime dance party, and at peak times during the week you can expect about 5000 people dancing in the sun in front of a 30,000w sound system, with beautiful girls on towers brandishing power-washers full of ice-cold water spraying down the dancefloor.

This year was my third year working the bar, and I was brought on as a shift manager, in charge of a group of eight bartenders, four "bar-backs" running supplies to the bartenders, and two people whose sole task was dealing with the MOUNTAINS of recycling generated by this incredibly busy bar.

To give you an idea of the scale, behind the bar we had two tractor-trailers full of booze, including 360 bottles of Bacardi, 600 bottles of vodka, 3,600 cans of Red Bull and 14,400 cans of Dos Equis beer, among other things. MANY other things. Furthermore, the exchange of money is not allowed at Burning Man, so all of our drinks were given away for free - you just have to bring your own cup.

Admittedly though, this year I felt a bit of a disconnect with my Distrikt 'crew' - in the two years since I'd been a part of the bar, the camp has grown significantly, and there were only a couple of folks I felt really connected to. I showed up for an unscheduled bartending shift at one point, and worked a solid five hours right beside a young lady, slinging drinks and bantering with the "customers". Finally when the bar ran completely out of ice with only an hour or so to go I threw in the towel, walked to the other side of the bar, and tried to get that fellow bartender to make me a drink. She looked at me blankly, and told me I'd have to go to the ID Check to get a stamp before she would serve me. I was flabbergasted - we just worked side-by-side for five straight hours, and without my even leaving the bar you don't recognize me at all?!? I acquiesced, and went to the ID Check... who also did not recognize me, and wouldn't even believe I was a part of the bar until I pulled them aside and showed them my name on the bar schedule.

Clearly it was just a symptom of the massive turnover that we as bartenders see at the the bar - but still, sadly, I definitely felt more at home with the Sacred Cow camp than with the Distrikt crew this year.


With at least a dozen friends hitting the playa for the first time this year, and the preliminary weather reports showing the Black Rock Desert to be exceptionally dusty, I found myself dishing out dust-survival advice to anyone who'd listen... but soon I found friends referring their friends to me for guidance, and after the second "Hi, you don't know me but so-and-so gave me your number..." phonecall I decided to take a couple of hours and put together this video, showing off my technique for surviving the dust, a combination of the 3M 9211 dust mask, a pair of ski goggles and a 'shemagh' or 'keffiyeh' scarf.


riding bikes around the playa

riding bikes around the playa

In this photo, we're out during the day riding around in comfort in our protective dust gear. Fortunately the playa wasn't nearly as dusty as expected - the word "Dustpocalypse" was bandied about quite a lot before the event! - but there were still regular whiteouts on the open playa, and lots of folks were wandering about with little or no protection.

Even though I was conscientious about wearing my protective gear whenever needed, I still broke one of my own recommendations and forgot to bring saline nasal spray. As a result, by the end of the week my nasal passages were cracked and bleeding, all the way back to my throat, and it took about two weeks back in the regular world before they went back to normal.


Miya's favourite art, "El Pulpo Mechanico"

Miya's favourite art, "El Pulpo Mechanico"

This photo shows Miya's favourite art car, a gigantic, rolling, rusty, robotic flaming octopus called "El Pulpo Mechanico". El Pulpo would roll slowly around the desert, stopping occasionally (usually near an audio installation, in this case a soundcar called 'Heart Deco' playing most excellent house music. We stopped here to dance for an hour while on a wonderful evening out with our friends Chris and Angela.

If you'd like to see El Pulpo Mechanico in action, here is a video (not my own!).


returning to La Paz, old and new flags

returning to La Paz, old and new flags

Burning Man came slowly to a close, and we finally returned to the TIE Fighter, after just over six weeks away. I had noticed the Canadian flag getting a little bit ratty before we left, and so I ordered a few extras while I was in Canada - just in time, apparently, as the former flag had torn itself to ribbons while we were away!


the remains of the garden

the remains of the garden

Sadly, the guy we had hired to check in on the boat and water the garden found himself another job while we were away, and was only able to drop in a few times in the later half of our vacation. The garden did not survive. Miya has since re-planted, and so far her dwarf Siberian kale has shown the most promise... more to come on the garden soon.

Well, that concludes the third update - one more to go and we'll be back up to date!


Posted by drew

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