How the Fence Began

Do yall know who invented Burning Man’s trash fence in 1995? Lawrence Breed — inventor of the world’s first computer animation language and system, and also the playa’s longest-running art piece besides the Man himself: Chaotick, the flaming tether ball.

“In 1996, the first trash fence was tested at Burning Man. Concieved by Larry Breed (playa name Ember), several hundred yards of 24" high netting was set up down-wind on the north side of the encampment to catch wind-blown trash. The Black Rock is visible to the right in the background of this photo.” - Danger Ranger (Photo by from Breed’s collection)
“In 1995-96, the first trash fence was tested at Burning Man. Concieved by Larry Breed (playa name Ember), several hundred yards of 24″ high netting was set up down-wind on the north side of the encampment to catch wind-blown trash. The Black Rock is visible to the right in the background of this photo.” – Danger Ranger (Photo by from Breed’s collection)

Danger Ranger, Vanessa Kuemmerle, Burning Man co-founder John Law, and other Cacophony organizers had been tearing their hair out over the sad reality of trash blowing from the Black Rock City site downwind and off into the desert during their Zone Trip. One of the Cacophony Society’s main uh, guidelines, is to leave everything better than you found it.

So Breed, called “Ember,” was and is a genius computer scientist who, with a friend, overheard these managerial woes and brought out and road-tested 75 feet of trash-catching orange fence to make sure it worked.

Breed presented his winning example of hard-plastic gatekeeping to the Operations team, who were understandably beside themselves with joy. The trash fence was and still is one of the greatest ideas in Burning Man leave-no-trace history.

The fence is also an iconic piece of Burning Man visual continuity. But this year … this year … there’s blue string. Not orange string to go with the orange fence, but some blue string. As in, not orange. Some of us, particularly Stinger, are freaked out about the blue string.

There was much talk about the addition of blue string to the fence this year.
There was much talk about the addition of blue string to the fence this year. (Photo by John Curley)

On Monday, while the Fence was being built, this writer sat in the Dispatch booth at the saloon, wrangling dusty radios and telling the Lawrence-Breed-invented-the-trash-fence-and-helped-invent-APL story to so many people that official DPW photographer-blogger John Curley — who missed his annual Fence Day photography spree because delays in arrival happen in the DPW — made us write it up here.

Do yall know what APL is? We didn’t either until we searched on it when John Law first told us about Breed being a part of our proto-DPW history.

At Stanford in 1961, Breed invented the world’s first computer and animation language and system, using it for Stanford football games to program a 100-foot-by-100-foot array of colored square cards.

Breed then corresponded with a Harvard professor named Kenneth Iverson who had invented proto-APL as a mathematical notation for algorithms.

Breed and his crew transformed Iverson’s mathematics into a computer-programming language source code devised to work with mathematics with an emphasis on array processing. They dubbed it APL (short for “a programming language”), turning it into a widely-used programming language like no other, and implementing it en machina starting with the IBM 7090 in 1965. You make spreadsheets because of Breed and co.’s APL implementation.

Then, if that’s not enough for you, in 1972, Breed and Francis Bates III wrote one of Earth’s first worldwide email systems, which they called “Mailbox.”

More than two decades later, in the non-default world of Black Rock City, Breed became an oldest-of-schools Burning Man attendee and Cacophony Society member who helped with the original Black Rock Gazette newspaper as well as later co-founding the Black Rock Beacon.

Lawrence Breed now. Most of us in DPW have never met him.
Lawrence Breed now. Most of us in DPW have never met him.

Danger Ranger didn’t even know any of all this about how Ember pretty much helped uh, invent the internet until last night when we told him at the Black Rock Saloon.

Danger just knew Breed/Ember as the guy who invented the trash fence, as well as the flaming tether ball and a half dozen genius Cacophonist-on-playa, possibly-world-helping inventions like the greywater-obliterating Evapotron, or “Gray-B-Gon” (complete with open-source online instructions).

No really, check out the Gray-B-Gon — especially if you or someone you know has a theme camp with greywater.

Burning Man setup means a constant stream of stories proving you never know who you could be talking to under that messy tutu.

The 2015 version of the trash fence is up (photo by John Curley)
The 2015 version of the trash fence is up (photo by John Curley)

CHANGING GEARS

Fence yesterday? Dawn Patrol was led by Just George and Cowboy Carl, as always — two proud former military men who became cowboys of sorts. They are kind and crusty-fatherly super-men who could easily be models for action figures, who represent pretty much the pinnacle of proper masculinity.

Yes we are swooning over Just George, who makes us do pushups, and over Cowboy Carl, who taught us how to scatter herds of cattle standing in the middle of the road by rolling your truck window down and banging on the door.

If a group behaves like its alphas, then these two may be a large reason why DPW is such a draw. The world has too many assholes in it, and Just George and Cowboy Carl are here to protect us from acting too much like them, and to teach us cheerfully to protect others and the earth in turn — from assholes, and from trash blowing past us to where we can’t get to it to pick it up.

Cowboy Carl and Just George (photo by John Curley, 2013)
Cowboy Carl and Just George (photo by John Curley, 2013)

The trucks had been loved up on by auto shop, loaded with fence materials, and made ready to roll the day before. Fluffers were awake by 3am; “dawn patrol” worker teams left the trailer park at 4am.

Crews ate a quick bite on the Black Rock shoreline and got to work as the sun rose pink over the fire-smoke mist. Another equally large wave of DPW crewmembers left for work at 7am.

All day long, the radios crackled with nonstop trash-fence action and beaten deadlines. Milestones were announced over the repeater over background cascades of “woo” noises. We found Bachmann Turner Overdrive’s “Takin’ Care of Business” stuck in our heads on repeat.

By 8:30am, the pounders had finished. That’s zero-eight-thirty, in Just George language. By 1:45 pm, fence was done.

Another record.

Of course, it’s only another record because pre-event DPW staff and volunteer count has grown by a few hundred people. A decade and a half ago, when there were only 30-40 of us in the DPW, putting up the trash fence took Cowboy Carl and his team two weeks.

Suggestion by suggestion, and learned lesson by learned lesson, this largely leaderless group of freaks learned together to build and strike a temporary city, all by ourselves, together. Not with ease so much as with collaboration and a crap-ton of meetings. Chaos with a thin layer of organization.

amen dude ... amen.
amen dude … amen.

Things get done much more quickly when there are fewer power relationships to contend with. Even hard labor seems easier in an anarchist city.

Good times are had most days by most people in the DPW — which is also different now, because we know enough not to accidentally overwork and underfeed a thin crew any more.

And we have an unassuming, DPW-orange fence — invented by a secret internet genius, helmed by cowboy servicemen, and constructed annually by a dusty cast of black-clad hundreds — to catch most of the trash.

*

 

Follow Summer Burkes and John Curley on Twitter.

 

Tyler Durden Invented Burning Man

Perhaps you’ve still never heard of the Cacophony Society, Burning Man’s parent group.

Pardon the cliche, but for history’s sake, we’re going to have to talk about fight club.

Fight Club is a book written in 1996 and then turned into a movie released 15 years ago this fall (we won’t provide any spoilers if we can help it). Author Chuck Pahlaniuk confirmed at several book-release events last year the “Project Mayhem” group in Fight Club’s story is indeed the Cacophony Society in real life … a wackier bunch of people, without the men-only Iron John subplot or all the property destruction and violence. (Well, serious violence, anyway.)

“But Larry Harvey invented Burning Man,” you may be saying to yourself. No, he and his homeys Jerry and Dan brought the statue to a “Zone Trip” the Cacophony Society had already planned to take to the Black Rock Desert.

The rest of the event didn’t spring, Godlike, from one man’s mind, and materialize like so much ganja in Shiva’s dreadlocks. Cacophony built Black Rock City. It was a group whim — a hive-mind good time which snowballed and splintered, glittering, like breaking mirrorglass.

art by Kevin Evans from Tales of the SF Cacophony Society
art by Kevin Evans from Tales of the SF Cacophony Society

Even if you don’t know it, Burning Man is and will always be the Cacophony Society’s yearly extended-family check-in and show-and-tell. It’s a fight club convention where old-timers don’t make a big deal about showing up to tweak and observe the city they created. This product of new collectivist activity reads like a neotribal Kumbh Mela which embraces chaos as spirituality. The event requires, and has always required, a dark army of dirtbags to make it all go flash bang boom.

Burning Man’s blank slate started as an anarcho-cyberpunk paradise away from the squares, on the moon. A living, breathing Internet, this equalizing Paper Street Soap Company in the dust churned art, analog, digital, fire, lust, danger, meetings, and magic into a whirlwind of construction and yelling. (more…)

Early Man-Man: proto-Burnin’ Dude builders and inspirational catalysts

If you’ll notice, talking to most of the elders of the Burning Man tribe, they put emphasis on the third syllable of the name of our weirdo company picnic. “The burning MAN,” they say, with a “The” at the beginning each time. All the rest of us say “BURN-ing man.”

So that’s how things used to be different right there, is the early Cacophonists emphasized the event’s syllables differently. That’s how you can tell an old-timer: They were there when “The burning MAN” was the only thing going on at “BURN-ing man” besides a sculpture or two, some buckets to poop in, and a bunch of people shooting guns or drinking or dragging each other around on tarps behind pickup trucks.

Just a statue and some surrealist freaks hauling junk. That was it.

from http://brokeassstuart.com/blog/2014/08/11/local-legend-of-the-week-burning-man-founder-host-to-the-sf-cacophony-society-p-segal/
Cacophony Society members invited Jerry, Larry, and the Burning Man out to their “Zone Trip Four” in 1990. Miss P Seagal, founder of Center Cafe and doyenne of Cacophony, stands with the Man. Photo stolen from BrokeAssStuart.

Old-timers also know the other originator of the Burning Man sculpture besides Larry Harvey, Jerry James, designed and built the Man almost singlehandedly in the four years it was on the beach (1986-1989). Not to say Harvey didn’t do anything, but he definitely wasn’t the lead builder, since he was more of a thinker-type than a carpenter-type person.

So, factually, Jerry James was the co-founder of the Man’s design as well as first lead builder. James paid for the materials and everything out of his pocket, for the first years. Carson Duper and Bill Nolan also helped build the Beach Man. In ’91, Jerry James backed out for various reasons, and first Dan Miller and then Chris Campbell took over as main Man builder.

The guys initially started building the Man at the shop where Dan Miller worked, called Sound on Stage, in San Francisco. Then they moved operations to Campbell’s house in South City. Miller was the main helper in Man-building from the beginning, instrumental and around in the first place because he literally lived inside the closet in Larry’s apartment. Miller took over as lead Man builder in ’90-91 (because Jerry James left) and then Campbell from ’93 or ’94 to ’99 or 2000.

After burning a Beach Man for four years, the cops famously told Harvey, James, Miller, and the guys they couldn’t burn their fifth one on the ocean that Summer Solstice in 1990. It was Danger Ranger, John Law, Kevin Evans, and Sebastian Hyde’s idea to ask those “latte carpenters” then if they wanted to bring the wooden figure to the San Francisco Cacophony Society’s latest outing, called “Bad Day at Black Rock,” which was to take place in the desert. This would mark the Cacophony Society’s fourth “Zone Trip” outing, as opposed to their usual pranks and culture-jamming events locally, and surreal weekend excursions to Southern California.

the first Burning Man t-shirt. so dark, & very not ravey or smiley, no?

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Early Man: Proto-DPW

Back when the Man’s knuckles still scraped the ground as the Earth’s crust cooled, there was no official setup and cleanup crew. There was no official anything. As the years have gone on — this writer joined the DPW in 1998 — we have built from scratch an annual temporary city and a rock-solid worldwide society, fanning out over the ‘90s and ‘00s from amorphous clumps of mayhem into an intricately-designed temporary autonomous zone requiring some half-zillion volunteers who come early to set up the whole thing, and a full zillion DPW and Gate/Perimeter folks to make Restoration happen. (Which we used to just call “cleanup,” but that wasn’t specific enough.)

this was Collexodus in 1998 - this and just two of us in the Bucket car, rolling through the streets begging for food & water through a megaphone
this was Collexodus in 1998 – this and just two of us in the Bucket car, rolling through the streets begging for food & water through a megaphone

Not to toot our collective clown horns too much, but even governments and disaster-relief agencies come to Burning Man leadership for protocol now in building and striking large sets, organizing masses of people and traffic, and crowd control for people who generally don’t like being told what to do.

Hordes of #Occupy organizers from around the country were calling in to the Burning Man offices during the height of #OccupyWallStreet, asking advice on how to move and maintain the throngs of GenXers and millennials who flooded the streets seeking change. A lot can happen with a countercultural movement if you start with a blank slate and a bunch of kinetic energy.

We come to Burning Man to slam into something harsh — to make ourselves tougher. Some go harder than others. Those who go hardest pick up the inevitable detritus left behind.
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Cop Whispering: A call to unity

Working DPW and Gate at Burning Man has given many of us on staff our first taste of what it feels like to be an Enforcer. Of any type. In order to build and run a city out of thin air, sometimes a bunch of anti-authoritarians have to figure out how to tell other anti-authoritarians what to do, in the way we’d like to be told ourselves.

We workers are enforcers of necessary rules like: Don’t bring your guns or dogs here, don’t run towards the burning thing, and what if you’ve tried to stow away a hippie and now they’re suffocating underneath your bad plans.

Yes, it can be fun to role-play alpha tribe-protector out here, all fancy with a radio. Yes, the Stanford Prison Experiment was real, and we’re sure the lead Black Rock Rangers have had to pull some “excited fake cop” people off their Burning Man Ranger routes and take their radios away. That’s human nature. Working through it is what happens next.

For us regular blue-collar workers in Black Rock City, sometimes in this heat we get to feeling harsh, whether from a long work day, a few bad apples’ stupidity, or their mis-assumption of our stupidity. Worse yet, sometimes, as Enforcers, we harsh someone who doesn’t deserve it, because someone else tried to run and hitchhike through fast-moving intake lanes just a minute ago.

So the workers of Black Rock City have a heightened sense of empathy for Burning Man’s law enforcement. In Black Rock City, we have DPW who builds and stewards the town, we have Rangers who walk around and interact with the community, we have Emergency Services which provides medical and fire protection to anyone and everyone who needs it, and we have Gate and Perimeter as our internal “border security.” Together, these Burning Man departments handle all the regular, run-of-the-mill problems a society might have, such as power outages, dehydration, or domestic disputes.

Then the big guns are also here — the BLM and local law enforcement — whenever we need them.

We have always been glad they’re here. We workers have dealt with some scary shit, and while we talk a big tough game, DPW doesn’t know what to do with a transient one-armed man who’s wandered in from the desert during setup 2003, bleeding from his crazy-eyed head, talking about having just murdered a friend and his dog. Uhhhh, that’s beyond our scope of knowledge and ability.

We call the cops. We need cops. End of story. (more…)

You’ve got the KLAP

As of this week, Gerlach’s one and only radio station, KLAP 89.5FM, moved physically from the garage in town to Mama Loella’s old hotel next door.

ye olde garage, now housing Quinn's new pizza joint
ye olde garage, now housing Quinn’s new pizza joint

KLAP 89.5FM sounds like KPIG — playing a vast array of cowboy, country, rock, roll, jazz, reggae, folk, Cajun, Latin, Dixieland, and soul music, in random playlists which skillfully ride the thin line between eclectic and familiar. And that’s because Jeff Cotton, who programmed KPIG, started the KLAP four years ago.

You could listen to KLAP 89.5FM right now, and forever, streaming here.
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Gerlach Senior Center – Donations Wish List

Gerlach’s elders could use a few things, y’all.

The Nevada town just outside the Black Rock Desert where Burning Man occurs is home to a small but thriving population of senior citizens. Rather than head towards the nursing homes of Reno, the elders in this dusty Western hamlet pretty much decided to hunker down and stick together. A Senior Center was created, where they can rely on each other for support, which allows them to live at their own homes for what seems like longer than most old folks get to, or maybe ‘til the last, as most of us would prefer.

Senior Center painting of Gerlach's iconic Water Tower, by someone named Livermore, done in 1978
Senior Center painting of Gerlach’s iconic Water Tower, by someone named Livermore, done in 1978

Weekday lunches and frequent activities with your friends? Constant contact with your support network? Sounds like a better way to spend those golden years than locked in a bleak hospital for the aging, somewhere far away from the ones you love.
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It’s a Cacophony Spring! — “Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society” book release events in May 2013

City Lights Bookstore SF, where modern American literature was born, announces:

Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society LAUNCH PARTY !
Thursday, May 16, 2013, 7:00 P.M., City Lights Boosktore, San Francisco, California

cacophonysociety_old_logo

“An evening of irreverent antics

with Kevin Evans, Carrie Galbraith, John Law and friends

celebrating the release of

Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society
Edited by Kevin Evans, Carrie Galbraith and John Law

published by Last Gasp Books

Come one, come all…..at your own risk.

A template for pranksters, artists, adventurers and anyone interested in rampant creativity, Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society is the history of the most influential underground cabal you’ve never heard of. Rising from the ashes of the mysterious and legendary Suicide Club, the Cacophony Society, at its zenith, hosted chapters in over a dozen major cities, and influenced much of what was once called the underground. The Cacophony Society’s epic exploits radically changed the way people live and play in the world. The group inspired Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and Burning Man and helped start pop culture trends including flash mobs, urban exploration, and culture jamming.”

What has been said about Tales of the San Francisco Cacophony Society:
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