We’ve mentioned a few times Burning Man’s new Social Alchemist Bear Kittay. Well, today’s his birthday, and we wanted to swing him some love. As Burning Man’s Social Alchemist, Bear’s job is to go to as many Regionals and similar events as he can, listening to the people “in the field” about what more Burning Man could do to help them, and also spreading the news about the latest goings on of BMOrg and the Burning Man Project.
I saw him at work doing this in Costa Rica at Envision, and I have to say, he’s awesome at it. Burning Man have done well to ensnare their Bear, he is the consummate networker and a man of many talents. One of those is musical, and as his friend it’s been great to see him finally recording his album over the past year. He’s leveraged his contacts in the musical world to record some amazing tracks with some well regarded people in his crew.
Now he needs our help to get the new “peer to peer” album out. “We need your money, but even more than that, we need your voice”. Helping Burning Man’s Social Alchemist, helps Burning Man. Plus it’s his birthday. So help Bear, please give whatever you can, every bit helps.
The record is being mixed and mastered by Jerry Harrison of the Talking Heads, a very affable chap who wrote perhaps the greatest song lyrics ever. He’s also retained Oliver and Sabec as counsel, who are the lawyers responsible for the Grateful Dead catalog (shout out to Jacqui, happy birthday to you too!)
Here’s Bear in his own words:
First off, THANK YOU for taking the time to read this 🙂
With so much clutter, clunk, detritus, and distractions on the internet, we don’t want to take up more of your time staring at a screen than is necessary, so we’ll keep this as brief as possible.
We’ve been putting this album together for close to a year now, but the underlying motivations and reasons for making it have been fomenting for most of our lives – and this is when it’s all coming together. Bear’s been traveling the world as Burning Man’s roving Social Alchemist, working to connect communities in new and novel ways… but as much as he loves organizing through network and hands-on “pitching,” he’s also been deeply honing his craft as a musician — and for him, this album is the essence of the storytelling that has permeated from his global experiences.
Music has always been a huge part of Bear’s life — he sung opera as a child, was bugle boy at camp, and picked up the guitar at 13 on a childhood expedition from Scarsdale, New York to the Utah Desert. His study of music has been through deeply immersive experiences, studying North Indian Classical music at Oberlin from his teacher, or “guruji,” Hasu Patel, and studying diverse ethnomusical traditions in his travels.
And now his traveling has brought him to the point of making this album. In June of 2012, Bear reconnected with Doce Luna (the producer of “Radio Beartopia,”) a bass player from an Obama benefit he had played in New York City four years earlier, at an Obama benefit . Luna reached out to Bear via Facebook to join him at the Bold Academy – a personal accelerator, “real life school for superheroes,” in Boulder, Colorado. Luna is a deeply steeped and studied musician, having gotten a degree in jazz performance at the Manhattan School of Music, where he performed an eclectic mix of jazz, classical, rock and electronic music, which culminated in a Latin Grammy nomination for his work with the Manhattan School of Music Afro-Cuban Jazz Orchestra. After spending years as a professional bassist – his calling – he tragically, in a freak accident, paralyzed his left hand, a condition that doctors said was likely permanent. This accident put a sudden stop to his performing career, and he reached out to Bear in need of life recalibration.
Not a day later, Luna arrived in Boulder, and him and Bear began a deep, inventive collaboration, blending analog and digital, melody and production, in unique and novel ways. Luna fully dove into developing his music production skills, as a means of continuing to make music with a paralyzed hand. Subsequently, Bear convinced Luna to move to San Francisco and to come to Burning Man, where Bear was organizing live music experiences. Since his paralysis left him, somewhat paradoxically, with more freedom of movement, Luna happily obliged. And while at the Burning Man event his hand had finally recovered to the point where he was able to pick up the bass once again. Their first performance, a “Cosmic Cruise,” took place on top of a psychedelic double decker art-bus, with the North Mississippi Allstars’ Cody Dickinson on drums. This performance was, in fact, the first time that Luna had played the bass since his accident.
After Burning Man, Cody invited Bear to come down to Zebra Ranch Studios, and lay down some tracks with him and his brother, Luther Dickinson (North Mississippi Allstars, The Black Crowes). Flattered by the invitation, and feeling a desire to update his material, Bear embarked on a songwriting binge, the majority of which took place on a small boat in the Mediterranean, where he and some of the founders of Burning Man were on a vacation / strategic ideation retreat. It was in the context of philosophical strategy mixed with the ancient ruins and amphitheatres of the Greeks, Mycenaeans, and others, that he rediscovered his muse, writing a “boatload” of new songs, and producing a rough EP of the material, using nothing more than GarageBand and his MacBook Air’s laptop mic. Burning Man founder Larry Harvey, in fact, collaborated on some lyrical content. Armed with this material, Bear went to Mississippi to work with the Allstars.
After returning from nearly a week of recording 12+ songs with the North Mississippi Allstars at the Zebra Ranch, he brought the tracks to Luna, with an initial reluctance for much tinkering. Luna, despite Bear’s initial attachment to the “purity” of the Mississippi tracks, immediately began dissecting and re-tooling them, and thus instigated the beginnings of the Radio Beartopia sound – defined by a stark juxtaposition of acoustic and electronic genre stylings, nevertheless unified by theme, mood, and overall style.
With original tracks recorded in Mississippi, Turkey, San Francisco, Malibu, New York and at the legendary Royal Studios in Memphis, where Al Green recorded his oeuvre – Radio Beartopia is a record with a truly diverse and international sound. Bear & Luna are now working with Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads) and ET Thorngren (who mixed and mastered over 100 legendary records, including Bob Marley’s “Legend”) on the mixing and mastering of the record.
“Radio Beartopia,” as a title, is intended to evoke the central idea of the record – that in terms of concept, it is sort of like switching between different radio stations, between different styles – but having those various styles and concepts be unified by Bear’s lyrical presence, and by the overall mood and arc of the album. And even the classical radio station is represented – several tracks on the album are instrumental works by Luna, that he composed for an eighteen piece electroacoustic ensemble, including a string quartet, woodwinds, horn section, classical percussion, rock percussion, and synthesizers.
We’ve recorded an absolute ton of tracks, and explored just about every detail and potential variation in the absolutely metamorphic process that has been birthing this record. We’re about 90% done with the tracking and editing process on 14 tracks, although we are still TBD about our launch timeline, and whether we want to release an EP before the LP, etc. We have several music videos in development and our website, beartopia.com, is launching imminently. We’ve retained Oliver & Sabec LLP (Grateful Dead, Burning Man) as counsel and we have Jim Walsh (Big Hassle) and a couple other friends helping with PR. We’re still making some decisions on the management front, but have a couple of incredible candidates for the role. As of now, we haven’t yet started meeting with potential booking agents.
This record has a diverse array of collaborators musically.
Bear Kittay Vocals, Acoustic Guitar, Electric Guitar, Sitar, Electric Sitar, Banjo, Melodica, Kazoo
Doce Luna Producer, Upright Bass, Electric Bass, Guitar, Synththesizers, Percussion
Cody Dickinson Drums, Piano, Percussion, Electric Washboard
Luther Dickinson Slide Guitar, Guitar, Mandolin
Memphis Gospel Singers Background Vocals
Give what you can. Spread the word through social networks or by picking up the phone, blogging or word of mouth. Let us know what you think! We do this together.
Thank you so much,
Bear Kittay & Doce Luna
Bear’s talk/song at TEDxSF:
My favorite Bear song: