photo by Charlie Evans
The ring of the bell is the first thing you hear once in range of the Burning Man Festival in bumfuck Nevada. Two of them, the size of logs, hang from poles at the front gate. The cars, RVs, trucks and buses crawl along the highway toward the entrance like ants to a watermelon. As you roll onto the dry lake bed on which the annual festival is held, the clangs get louder and louder. Finally, an arrival, and the source of the sound reveals itself: A sprite little angel giggles then strikes a bell. She's a virgin, so she must strike the bell. Then a shirtless dude with washboard abs swings like it's a pinata. He's a virgin, too.
The gatekeepers pound on the door and quiz the carloads: “Any virgins inside?” — virgins being newbies to the festival, which last year drew nearly 40,000 wandering souls from all over the world. Last year a man dressed as a Victorian aristocrat handed me the hammer, instructed me in a very refined British accent to strike it as hard as I fucking could. Last year, I was new blood, and for a brief moment the whole of Black Rock City (the town that is Burning Man) knew that some new blood has arrived, new blood to perhaps carry the torch, new blood to perhaps ruin this for the rest of us, but new blood nonetheless. The gentleman ordered me to lay down in the playa dust and roll around. Then he spanked me.
Throughout the first three or four days as the throngs arrive, the cars, buses, vans, motorcycles, the virgins ring the bell, and the camp rejoices. At five a.m as you're drifting off to sleep, the bell, the bell, another virgin, the tolling of the bell. The sound wave drifts across the playa and bounces off the rocks. The bell does funny things on the dry riverbed. You can hear the sound wave bend and stretch with the gusting wind. The beat, perpetual, and deep, does the same thing. It floats, then drifts away with the wind.
I'll be chasing the beats around Burning Man for the next week, and reporting my findings here. Let the rhythm begin. Be forewarned. Wi-fi is sketchy out here. But I've found a photographer, and his name is Charlie. He'll be providing photos.
Let the games begin.