Soundscapes: Field Recordings From Burning Man

The Black Rock Desert is the perfect place to create huge art and bring together tens of thousands of people precisely because it is one of the few environments that can absolutely dwarf these large scale endeavors. The contrast between the ephemeral creative achievements of Burning Man and the stoic, eternal natural world which surrounds it are one of the truly magical aspects of the event. And it’s typically an aspect of the best art about Burning Man.

“Sound Architect” Nick Sowers has created a unique portal through which to experience Burning Man from afar with a collection of soundscapes that he recorded at last year’s festival. He includes a range of recordings from the natural to the cultural–dust storms to burning art. At their best these aspects intermingle, and you get a sense of a dramatic environment within which whimsical, joyous and mundane human activities are occurring. From his introduction:

Sound has become my medium of choice for exploring and documenting new places. Recording sound as a means of observing spatial conditions de-emphasizes the visual realm and opens up another dialogue with place, one that is haptic and time-based. Images of a place are formed by listening to sound recordings, but these images are fleeting and ambiguous. Since I have carried microphones to over two dozen countries, I thought: Why not carry them to Burning Man as well? It’s as exotic a place as any I have been to.

The Bicycle Sound Cinema piece, recorded while biking around Burning Man, reminded of that singular experience of riding a bike around the playa. You ride through darkness, and relative silence, mostly the sound of your own conversation and your tires crunching on the desert. Dull murmurs of numerous far-off theme camps and their far away fires and lights. You choose a set of lights and ride off toward it, and as you approach the light & sound grow clearer, louder and some wondrous, bizarre noisy installation appears, now full-sized and ready to overwhelm you.

There has been great documentation of the lights of Burning Man and the scale of the event and setting from a visual standpoint. But it’s nice to hear that someone is at last documenting the noise of it all.