The ephemeral Black Rock City, a place that exists only for the length of the spectacular Burning Man festival of counter-culture, music and arts is a gruelling test of endurance for both man and machine alike.
Taking place in the middle of the Nevada desert, where the temperature regularly reaches well over 40 degrees in the day and can plummet to below zero under the clear skies at night, you need to be a special kind of animal to adapt and survive in these conditions. With dust storms whipping up every few hours out of nowhere, it takes the community spirit and a love of all things avant garde to get the best from what some see as one of the most “out there” global events in the world.
Yet, despite the challenging conditions, over 60,000 participants are drawn to the desert location each year to take part in over a week of 24 hour exploration – of each other, of arts events, of music, dancing and parties, and testing individual limits of self-expression and self-reliance.
Whilst part of the ethos of Burning Man is to create “Black Rock City” out of nothing each year and, when the festival ends, return the desert site back to whence it came leaving no traces of humans even having been there, whilst the festival is in full swing, facilities must be created and basic needs met.
Music is integral to the backbone of the entire experience, with performances spanning individual acts of self-expression up to full-on dance music systems of the slightly more traditional form, as you might see at Glastonbury. This is where our story starts, with a British company shipping out to be part of the “Ooligan Alley” project, equipping and manning music and dance events at Burning Man.
Oz Jeffries, from pro-audio specialists Audio Feed based on the south coast of England, takes up the story for us:
“Having been to Burning Man 3 times before, I was excited to take part on the Ooligan Alley project, but I knew the challenge ahead. Black Rock City is the ultimate test of survival, endurance and self-reliance on us, and therefore on all of the equipment out there in that environment for 10 days.”
Audio Feed supplied a huge Funktion One speaker system for the event, which was exclusively powered by MC2 amplifiers and XTA processing. Twelve F1 Res4Ts and twelve F1 F221A subs made up the main PA. Such a serious system demands a seriously cool look, and the focal point for the set-up was the Jumbo 737 airplane cockpit that had been cut in two to become the DJ booth. Monitoring in the cockpit was via a pair of Res2s and F-121s.
“We powered everything with 4 x MC2 E100, 4 x E25 and the XTA A6 amplifier modules [for the subs], all running through XTA 4 Series processing including 2 x DP448 and 1 x DP428 [same as DP448].
I was very happy to be powering everything with XTA and MC2 equipment knowing their reliance, and we decided to use a sealed Hexiyurt to house the amplifier racks including the XTA A6 modules which we took out of the back of the bass cabinets to protect them from the dust as much as possible. We then ran 2 air conditioning units within that yurt to keep control of the temperature, all run from an isolated generator with an output of 230v to reduce the amperage. We wired each bass cabinet with 4 core cable to allow us to have independent control of each driver.
Each single 4 Ohm Funktion One 21″ driver was run from a single MC2 channel E-100 channel, or a single A6 module channel, therefore giving the best output power with plenty of headroom. Running as a 7 way system we had full separate control of the top Resolution 4’s to cover the back of the arena, all controlled via our iPad using the DP4 remote app connected to the 4 series processors, this control is invaluable throughout the event for front of house control.”
In case you haven’t heard of the A6 modules – a little bit of history: The A6 modules were XTA’s first foray into the world of digital amplification and were a collaborative project with Funktion One, producing a 2 x 2.2kW amp with full DSP and remote control in a package not much bigger than a telephone book! These modules were fitted to the back of the sub cabinets and could power an additional sub each. There was also a smaller A4 module which was used with the Res2 speakers.
Oz was delighted with the results:
“All of the equipment performed outstandingly. After an 8000 mile journey across the Atlantic and a 4 hour truck drive out into the desert, within hours even with the best will in the world all the equipment was covered in dust, so a lot was expected of the moving parts and electronics. Being in a very desolate location for 10 days we had to rely on the equipment with only limited spares. No spares were needed, and even in the dust storms and 14 hour a day running times through 40 degree temperatures differences all the speakers and electronics blinked not once, and upon inspection afterwards we found no dust inside the amplifiers.”
Burning Man shows no sign of burning itself out growing in size and popularity year upon year – a British rental company making a pilgrimage across the ocean with no speaker or electronic casualties shows just what a dedicated and professional a team of people work at Audio Feed. Whether there were any human “casualties” due to party overload is something that will surely stay on the road!
With special thanks to Oz Jeffries @ Audiofeed, Federico Pirzio-Biroli, and Lachie Gordon.