An Aural Trip to Burning Man

Sound recordist and architect Nick Sowers offers an audio experience of the annual festival Burning Man.
January 15, 2011, 9am PST | Nate Berg
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"I think of Burning Man not as home but as nowhere. Nowhere is a place, and it is far from empty. Upon arrival, I am surrounded by giant robots, roving grand-pianos and clowns with air horns on stilts. I am subjected to a soundtrack of nonstop house music emanating from all directions. If I want to sleep (and why sleep, the music begs to ask?), I had better bring ear plugs. Noise complaints? Disturbing the peace? Forget about it.

One reason people come to build this temporary city in the desert is to forego the ordinances and codes that govern life back home. Burning Man has very few physical or cultural boundaries. For architects, who typically depend on constraints to arrive at a form, the great challenge here is to create in an environment where anything is possible. Sure, Burning Man produces some unsightly, sprawling constructions. At night, however, the only thing that matters is how bright are your lights and how loud is your sound. Architecture-as-structure gives way to architecture-as-effect. (Venturi and Scott-Brown would love it.) Hearing about this place of nowhere, my curiosity was piqued. I had to find out what sort of architecture this city could make."

Sowers' recordings include a bike ride through the city, and the ritualistic burning of one of the festival's structures.

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Published on Thursday, January 13, 2011 in Places
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