Syzygryd

God knows how we found it, but isn’t that how all these stories start? We were wandering out near the Man on a clear night, the carnival was in full swing, and little loops of music bounced around from all directions. For a few minutes, we stood transfixed as a spinning steel globe cast white sparks of light in a whirling circle, projected on the dust.

Then, as if the Earth beneath us had simply switched one sculpture for another, we stood before a gyrating spire of boldly-colored lightbulbs, seemingly capable of casting any hue, creating the illusion of sending each wave of color up into the sky. People laid on their backs all the way around the base of the spire, their heads touching, their eyes breathing in the vivid display, their dusty boots splayed out around them.

The Earth moved again, and we began to hear some music.

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Three glowing panels were arranged in a triangle around a twisted structure, which pulsed with sound and light and hissed with flammable gases. The beats and bleeps and bloops bumped in time with a sequence on the screens.

Someone danced animatedly at the panel closest to us, fiddling with the touchscreen grid and adding new, subtle elements to the song. Before too long, without me even having to scream “OH MY GOOD GOD, LET ME PLAY WITH IT!”, this Burner stepped aside, and the panel was mine.

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I lifted my fingers to the grid, and the squares I touched took on bright highlights. Other squares displayed strange glyphs in the middle, which winked on and off, seemingly at random. I quickly figured out that these were the doings of the other two players. I could see them at their stations, with the hulking, musical idol practically head-banging between us, but they were too far to reach, beyond the range of my voice, which was drowned out by the beat.

Each time the playback bar cycled across the board, though, I could hear the ideas of these two other minds. From the eerie, frenetic phrases arguing out of the speakers, I could hear that they weren’t listening to each other or to me. Their icons flashed on and off the board unpredictably. The music built slowly, and the dancing colored lights grew warmer.

Now shifting from foot to foot and pumping one fist in the air, I took matters into my own hands. I followed the moves of the other players, matching their phrases or winding wild counterpoints around them. Then it clicked. We found a groove. A melody emerged, with two, then three voices. Sharp, heavy chords. Total unison.

BOOM!

The whole sculpture erupted in flames, searing my face, my outstretched hands, and the flames curled into the sky.

All rights reserved by Mike Alberghini

Later, long after all the dust settled, I learned that this thing was called Syzygryd. As far as I’m concerned, this piece has everything: intuitiveness, interactivity, collaboration, multi-sensory stimuli, original technology, and music that is always changing. It’s my favorite piece of art.

It wasn’t just sitting out there on the playa, either. “Syzygryd is curated by a team of mad scientists, programmers, fabricators and musicians,” they say in their explanatory Syzy-text:

“All crew members are attired in positively outlandish uniforms (hard hats and lab coats in *extremely* bright colors) making them easy to find in the crowd. Syzygryd’s ground crew introduce participants to the touchscreen controllers, explain the inner workings to all who wish to know, and offer a select few participants the chance to control the fire and lighting effects through a custom iPhone and iPad application on one of our team’s development devices.”

Much as reading this may have burst my bubble (in my playa euphoria, I thought we three players had caused the pyroclasm ourselves), the crew’s accessibility and openness only emphasizes just how wonderful a piece Syzygryd is. To build this incredible thing would have been enough, but these artists know we have more questions, they know we want to just completely merge ourselves with this thing, and they were out there to facilitate our play.

The team was overwhelmingly helpful with and appreciative of my inquiries prior to writing this piece, providing me with these stunning photos and explanatory texts. I can’t thank them enough for their contribution to the 2010 Burn.

Attribution-noncommercial-sharealike license by Milkman Amok

Visit syzygryd.com, follow them on Twitter @Syzygryd, and stay tuned for the next opportunity to play with this extraordinary machine.

Did you have a Syzygryd experience at Metropolis? I would love to hear about it, and I’m sure the Syzygryd team would, too.

About the author: Jon Mitchell

I'm the managing editor at Burning Man. I wrote this book and this record. I co-wrote a big story about spending 24 hours at the Temple of Juno in 2012, which lives at templestories.com. I've been a Burner since 2008.

19 thoughts on “Syzygryd

  • My experience with this incredible piece of art was when me and two of friends were wandering the playa in a near white-out. We stumbled upon it when no one was using it and we each took a screen, and needless to say we had a blast. I never experienced it at night but it seems like that was the time to see it. The cool part about this is that everybody can use it and share cause its a group activity, I thought that being able to see what the other people were doing was one of the coolest features of the sequencer on the screen cause you could create something cool together, which is what the playas all about!
    I reallyyyyy hope that that syzygryd is back in 2011

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