The Patron Saint of Burning Man: Wagner

That’s Dick Wagner, composer…not Dick Wagner, Pershing County judge. A blog called “Wagner Tripping” has proposed that the German musician be declared the Patron Saint of Burning Man. It seems there are many similarities between TTITD and Wagner’s vision for his performances:

Kinder, macht neues! Neues! Und abermals neues!  (Children, make something new! New! And new again!) – Richard Wagner1

brunnhilde_s_immolationWagner was an art revolutionary.  He believed that art should be at the pinnacle of society, and the thing that society should revolve around. Not church. Not state. Not business. Art. His call for art to continually change and renew was at the heart of his belief system, as his quote above clearly expresses.  His monumental life work, Der Ring des Nibelungen, demonstrated what he saw as “the artwork of the future.” He dreamed of a summer festival, in which his art would bring people together from all over the world to begin to build a new sort of community, one in which the values of art, community and love would supplant those of commercialization, greed, property and money.   

He originally envisioned that the premiere performance of the cycle would be held on the banks of a river, and  there would only be one cycle – “free, of course” (but three performances each day!) – followed by destruction of the theater, presumably by setting it ablaze, after the end of the cycle. And, then, move on to another work…

…Clearly, Wagner was the original burner, at least in conception

Much of the art is ephemeral and is burned at the end of the week. This is the quintessential Burning Man experience: lots of art; lots of fire…

Wagner, who was obsessed with the cleansing and renewing nature of fire, would have been absolutely enchanted with the burner community. These were the droids he was looking for!

There sure do seem to be some similarities here. Burning Man founder Larry Harvey is very well read, calling himself an “auto-didact” (which means, self-taught). He lectures around the world on the arts, it is certainly not inconceivable that he would have an awareness of Wagner.

According to the author, the similarities go even further. Wagner envisioned his festival as being free to the people, but as time passed, commercial realities took over.

wagner bmBoth festivals were founded on clear ideals, and succeeded wildly in some ways. In both cases, true believers come from all over the world, create a community around art, then go back to their homes renewed. However, ideals are one thing; reality is often far different.  

Wagner first conceived of his festival before he had written any of the music dramas, in 1849.  Over twenty years later, he was still nursing his dream when he began the Bayreuth project.  He had given up the hope of setting the site on a river—I am sure reluctantly—as impractical, however, according to biographer Barry Millington:

Wagner had every hope and intention of adhering faithfully to his original ideal conception of the festival: the theater was to be a provisional construction only…the enterprise was be be strictly non-profit making…with no admission charges and a number of seats to be distributed free of charge to the residents of Bayreuth.4 

All this would be paid for through a world-wide fund-raising program, with Wagner societies throughout the world springing up to help make this a reality, and a lot of free labor.  And, of course, with Wagner’s patron, King Ludwig II, chipping in the lion’s share (though it came in the form of a loan.)

wagner jack bmThe reality was that the cost of building and putting on the festival left Wagner greatly in debt, forcing him to give up his ideals in the attempt to leave his family with a way to survive financially. (His wife Cosima was only 45 at his death, and had four children to support.)  He didn’t build Bayreuth to be a shrine to himself or his art; that was not his purpose.  Cosima, after his death, created that. But he had to turn it into a money-making enterprise or his family would have had no means of support.

He was, in fact, deeply disappointed in Bayreuth, in a number of ways.  Certainly foremost is that the people he wanted to see it—young people, university students and choral societies—couldn’t afford it.5  Instead, the rich turned out, and he hated the rich.6  He wrote to his supporter Friedrich Schön, “Since we have had no choice in the matter, these performances, as before, will have to be reserved for paying audiences,”7  but he then went on to ask Friedrich to rally his supporters to set up a foundation to “make it possible for people without means of their own to attend the performances.”8  This was done, and it still exists today.  It’s something, but very, very far from his dream.9

20130912-150125.jpgAs for Burning Man.  I think everyone who was a participant in the early years would agree that it has strayed far from its ideals.  It started as ritual, evolved to be an affordable and unique art festival in the early years, and now has become a money-making business where it is difficult for people who are not fairly well-off to afford to come.

Perhaps we will see some great operatic performances of Wagner’s works at Burning Man in years to come. This year’s visit by a Blackhawk helicopter had me humming “Ride of the Valkyries”…

The Old Bait-n-Switch

Scribe got the scoop of the year this year, with the news that Burning Man is charging $150,000 for Vogue photo shoots, and profiting from DVD and soundtrack sales from their movie Spark: A Burning Man story. Then he decided he was going to just shut up and enjoy the Burn, trusting that Larry and Marian would do the right thing by all Burners. He still cares though, and took to his paper’s blog to point out to us that the latest BMOrg announcement of “What’s Up With The Burning Man Project?” is a disappointment:

In a series of stories earlier this year, I outlined how the board that controls Burning Man doesn’t appear to be “relinquishing our control” over the event, as founder Larry Harvey announced would be happening in 2014. And if you want more proof of his bait-and-switch, check out this new blog post by spokesperson Will Chase on the Burning Man Project. Far from taking over the $23 million business, the new entity seems to have less going on that its predecessor off-shoot,Black Rock Arts Foundation. As I previous wrote, I’ve moved on, but I thought you’d enjoy the links anyway.

..Best Of 2013...

photo by Peter Talbot

What is actually up? Well, if you donate your own money, you can help fund the “Founders” travelling around the world giving lectures:

Burning Man Project received its 501c3 status as a charitable organization in May 2012, has been getting its administrative house in order and is starting to make things happen. We’re wading into deeper waters now, taking on projects on a variety of topics. We wanted to take a minute to highlight a few of the recent ones.


New York City Symposium on Burning Man, Technology, Religion and the Future

Event flyerIn November, the Burning Man Project joined Columbia University’s Department of Religion and Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life to present a free forum on Burning Man, technology, religion and the future, featuring panelists Larry Harvey (founder of Burning Man), John Perry Barlow (founder of the Electronic Frontier Foundation) and Peter Hirshberg (disruptive cultures and technology expert). Dr. David Kittay of Columbia’s Department of Religion moderated a lively conversation about Burning Man as a philosophical movement, its history, and its predicted global applications.

More than 300 turned out for the two hour-long discussion and Q&A session.

I met Dr Kittay at his first Burn, just a couple of years ago. It’s unclear to me exactly what role he, Barlow, and Hirshberg play in the Burning Man story as “Founders”. But, donate anyway.

We’re looking to offer traveling symposia like this in more cities around the world as part of the Project’s education programming. They’re an ideal way to share the wisdom of Burner values with the academic community and beyond.

“Share the wisdom of Burner values with the academic community”? Well, if you really think that’s the same as “taking Burning Man to the world”, donate.

Youth Education Spaceship (Y.E.S.) Project

Burning Man Project collaborated Black Rock Arts Foundation, Black Rock City, The CrucibleExploratorium, and Maker Faire to work with Burner artist Dana Albany and kids from San Francisco’s Tenderloin and Hunters Point neighborhoods to build a 12′ diameter 10′ high space ship from repurposed and found objects.

Y.E.S. is a mobile spaceship classroom and collaborative art project that gave the kids experience creating and exhibiting their creation, which has gone on tour to Burning Man, the Exploratorium, Hunter’s Point Open Studios, and Maker Faire in San Mateo.

A bunch of kids re-cycled some existing materials to build an art car – cool. Please donate so Burning Man can take the Art Car to other cities. Of course, if you want to take your own art car to other cities, Do Not Use The Words Burning Man. 

I checked out this spaceship at Burning Man this year, I thought it was great. If I was going to kick money into a spaceship though, it would probably be my own art car that I would fund myself to bring to Burning Man. It’s hard to see how funding someone else’s art car to go to non-BM events, helps bring Burner culture to the world and makes the world a better place.

Crowdfunding: Trends in the Sharing Economy

Earlier this month, Burning Man Project hosted a free panel discussion on trends in the sharing economy. Crowdfunding and the sharing economy reflect our principles of gifting, communal effort, civic responsibility and decommodification, and we brought together Kate Drane from Indiegogo, Daniel Miller fromFundrise, and Harry Pottash from Kiva to talk about the future of crowdfunding.

More than 50 people turned out to discuss the state of crowdfunding, the challenges they’ve faced, and new ideas on how this movement can be used to empower underprivileged projects through the democratization of fundraising.

burning-bush50 people went to a panel discussion that has nothing to do with Burning Man. Crowdfunding is not Gifting or Decommodification. The topic, Crowd Funding, was recently heartily bashed on Burning Man’s official blog (unofficially, according to the author). Please donate to Burning Man’s not-so-new charity, so that people from Indiegogo can put on more panel discussions.

Really, BMOrg? After 3 years, this is it? This is your vision for how the big rave called Burning Man is going to help the world? Reinvest the profits back into Black Rock Solar and be done with it. Let Burners save their hard-earned money to spend on costumes, art cars, and art projects that we bring for free to increase the monetization potential of your party.

And the Oscar Goes to…Burning Man

oscarThat’s right campers, Burning Man could be in contention for an Oscar. More specifically, two of the songs from the movie Spark: A Burning Man Story are in the list of 75 contenders to be nominated for Best Original Song.

The songs are “Let it Go”, by San Francisco’s Michael Franti and Spearhead; and “We Ride” by Australia’s Missy Higgins.

For the first time, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences will be holding a concert at UCLA’s Royce Hall three days before the Oscars, with all the nominated composers and artists invited to perform.

The 86th Academy Awards nominations will be announced live on Thursday, January 16, 2014, at 5:30 a.m. PT in the Academy’s Samuel Goldwyn Theater. The Academy Awards for 2013 will be presented on Oscar Sunday, March 2, 2014, at the Dolby Theatre and televised live on ABC and more than 225 countries and territories worldwide.

The soundtrack to Spark also features music by The Scumfrog, Diplo, and Damian Lazarus:

Executive produced by Dan Wilson (Adele, Dixie Chicks) and the film’s producer Steve Brown, the soundtrack for Spark was designed to showcase musicians who Brown says “had a passion for Burning Man and for the culture that it represents.”

It got a good review from New York site Upstate Live:

spark-burning-man-soundtrackThe compilation of music set to the documentary is unbelievably powerful and completely captures the togetherness that Burning Man promotes. From the opening track, “Feel The Love” by Rudimental (featuring John Newman) a down tempo into fast drum and bass song fully equipped with horns, you can immediately pick up on the vibe and feeling of the album, documentary and festival as a whole. “Coastal Break” by Tycho truly portrays the range of music that is utilized to depict the emotion and love behind the creation of Burning Man. Far more ambient than “Feel the Love”, “Coastal Break” still perfectly encompasses the upbeat and progressive nature of Burning Man. People who have attended Burning Man in the past have spoken of the wide array of people from all walks of life that show up to Burning Man and reach a platform of unity and oneness with the entire community. That is what makes this album so unique. It truly covers so many different aspects of the Burning Man experience that even with each song being so different from the last, it still makes complete sense. Some songs are more literal within their lyrics like Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros, “Man on Fire” and Missy Higgins, “We Ride.” Higgins croons somberly about the coming to life of being in a desert surrounded by so much energy from the people surrounding you. Comprised primarily of electronic instrumentals, these tracks are filled in nicely with ballads related to the entity of Burning Man as a whole, whether they meant to be or not. Michael Franti’s “Let it Go” is such a high energy, feel good song that perfectly depicts the spirit of the festival, even to those who have never attended.

…Each song brings a different aspect and energy of Burning Man to an extremely well put together album. Each song is different, and yet in the context of Burning Man, very much the same. This album is a perfect compilation to be set to the making of one of the best festivals in the world.

You can listen to “Spark: A Burning Man Story” here and purchase it from iTunes here.

[Update 12/18/13] Michael Franti had this to say about the possibility of his song being an Oscar contender:

Being at Burning Man has been a life changing experience. For me, the burn is about one very large, meaningful thing: the simple act letting go. Releasing what is no longer helping me, in order to clear space for new opportunities, new ways of seeing the world and my own life. That’s what the song Let It Go is all about. Spark is not just the story of Burning Man, it is the story of people who share the relentless quest for transformation of themselves, our society and the planet. Sometimes, a lot of the time actually, we stumble and this song is about getting up. I’m grateful to be a part of that journey.