Baptism of fire
Hal Phoenix reports on Burning Man 2001

Psychedelic Craziness on The Playa


Hal ‘Phoenix’ Muskat, Chief Colourist from Rainbow Puddle Liquid Light reports on his experiences at Burning Man 2001. If you have no idea what Burning Man is then here is not the place to even begin to explain it, suffice to say it IS arguably the last word in parties on a HUGE scale.
We at pOoTers pSycheDelic shAcK would call it ‘Mad Max meets the Psychedelic Scene in sun baked Black Rock Desert crazieness’, but that doesn’t really do it justice.

Instead we recommend checking out the Official Burning Man site to learn about it


Burning Man is an annual event held at the Black Rock Playa, the second largest flat space in the entire Northern Hemisphere. It is at an altitude of 3,848ft and is 27 miles long and 12 miles wide (at it’s widest point).
Daytime temperatures ALWAYS exceed 100+ degrees and the atmosphere is massively dry which makes it a very inhospitable place with a very real danger always present in the form of raw desert heat.
This does not stop 25,500 people turning up every year for 10 days of craziness...........


Check out the Official Burning Man 2001 Survival Guide (266kb)


Read on for Hal’s Report:

While I struggle to find appropriate words to describe what I’ve experienced these past 10 days while living in Black Rock City I still feel gripped by the energy and excited by the undefined changes that seem to be flowing through my body in enormous emotional waves. I’ve resolved that if I speak each day of Burning Man and prepare a little every day for next year and talk more of my friends and children into attending, the energy will remain within and grow in new creative and unpredictable dimensions.

I have never experienced such a massive collective, such a creative outpouring and expression of energy, love and art, light, color, music, motion, possibilities, games and fun. Spread throughout Black Rock City, a place that rose from the desert floor, were at least 10 miniature golf courses, a number of bowling alleys & more games & fun & more amazement then a child could find in Disneyland. In fact, it was more like an adult Psychedelic Disneyland on The Edge of The Void created by the likes of Dr.’s Hoffman & Leary & Ken Kesey for the likes of us, our friends and children. It is a place for artists to push their creativity to it's flaming conclusions.

And, no matter what I say, it is true, if you haven't been there, it is like trying to define variations of color to someone who has never previously had the benefit of sight.

First the perspective. Begin with the unreal and move slowly into the surreal surrounded by sensual. It is LARGE and perspective is not understood or has it existed in this sort of dimension to ever define any of our realities. Imagine perspective for Dorothy when she realized she was no longer in Kansas!

I mean, it is not like setting up several sq blocks of a city for a festival, or decorating any venue or meadow or street fair or even a stage set for that matter. All of those places are contained within parameters contained inside a pre-defined frame of reference! Eleven months of the year this space is the middle of 100 sq miles of dust. This is where the world land speed record was set!
Our entry tickets said, "You can die at this event!" There is no frame of reference to understand this experience or perspective of building.


I have been dreaming for 55 years of such divine smallness in the midst of mammothly surreal surroundings. I got home! In the middle of a 100 sq. mile some 200 million year old dry lake bed, at 4,000’ surrounded by mountains, sits The Man and this is no ordinary beach. The sand is very fine and dust is everywhere. However naked or costumed folks get, then don’t lack surgical mask and underwater goggles. Many used respirators at night. Dust storms created white outs with 5’ & less visibility. Cameras were ruined without underwater covering. After two shampoos, it is still in what hair I’ve left.

Dozens of Theme Camps and Art Installations comprise most of Black Rock City.

Anchored almost at one end of The Playa was the $120,000 spoof of Emerald City from The Wizard of Oz, (Spirilina folks) complete with a couple hundred foot giant fan inflated dome for projections & a laser show that hit the mountains 20 something miles away. The primary structure that was Emerald City was attached to scaffolding and built into a stage. Sixteen chicken wired towers from 25 to 60’ high covered w/ green fabric and lit from within, were seen from miles away. Total Surrealism out of perspective. There is no perspective in which to comprehend what one views those nights. has a photo of a partial installation in Santa Cruz prior to BM


More then a mile across The Playa stood a 200' pyramid defined by light that towered over everything else. It was invisible during daylight when it disappeared rendering useless its point of reference if one began the night beneath it's lights.

Another Theme Camp worth remembering was Xara "...a world-within-a-world: a sheltered and interactive environment of jungle ruins, enchanted rainforest, strange creatures, living grass and settling mists; the ghost of a civilization long lost - or not yet begun. It is a place of exploration and hospitality, of dreaming and dancing, and deep jungle secrets. Through this jungle looms the Temple of the Jaguar, The Lost Ruins of Ninka, the  roar of Xara Falls - and the living fever - of music." A several hundred sq. ft black light garden & space.

At yet another "camp," a 600’ sq ft laser grid had us skipping laser beams within a checker board pattern at another camp one night. At another, Thunder Dome a giant structure that held over 80 naked and costumed people over its entire surface featured two bungied swings attached from above. Lots of mobility on those suckers as “combatants” in each swing maneuvered  for position to batter their opponent with foam rubber weapons. Many brought their own from home and have been developing challenges and strategies for a year!

At a jam camp (SCI, GD, Phish?) that featured a several layered flowing fountain with the water dripping out the mouth of a dragon whose eyes lit and moved as well as several smaller spraying & dripping fountains, I did a two projector light show for several bands and appreciative trippers after the Mausoleum Burn Sunday night.

Todd Rundgren did a lounge act in the Tiki Bar.

Art Installations everywhere on and around The Playa which is the center of the lake bed surrounded by Black Rock City. Fire balls suspended from swinging poles that wrapped around another pole, wound down & spun back again.

An 80’ long from tail to nose several ton lion stood on 20’ high pedestals. It was originally commissioned by the SF Opera House at a cost of at least $100,00 dollars & took a crane several days to set its half dozen sections in place! ml are all over the place. Many are  designed to Burn on platforms that minimize damage to the desert floor. Scarred earth is carefully swept for nails that fell beneath burn platforms prior to scrapping away. After the next winter, another layer of dust will cover most of the space.

Art Cars are the only way to see much of this 6 sq mile city complete with structures needing cranes and phnumatic post hole diggers for installation & tall scaffolding with 3 point rigging into 3’ rebar! How bout an armored roach. Fish cars! A huge cat car whose designer was seen combing it's lit hair one afternoon just prior to sundown. Spider cars, a 6 trailer worm or something, torch cars, bar cars, beach cars, bikes, trikes, whatevermobiles electric or gas!.


Remember, it all happens at night. Daytime is for sleep and refreshment for the nights psychedelic extravaganzas. Miles of El Wire decorate vehicles, people, structures, all made of wood, plastic or foam. There is no cement in Black Rock City. Our own Dept. of Public Works (a year round endeavor) maps out Black Rock City that forms a semi circle going out about 3/4 mile in each direction from Center Camp. From the last road (Oblivion) on one side to the other, it is almost 2.5 miles. The Man is Dead Center! It was a fifteen minute walk from the nearest Theme Camp.

(In the two hours prior to dark, legions of pole carrying, Medieval-like robe dressed people proceed out from Center Camp with two lit gaslights each swinging from poles carried across their shoulders and behiind their necks, to the beat of drums. . .to place the lamps on dozens of high lamp towers throughout Center Camp, The Esplanade (the street fronting The Playa) and the walk to the Man and other structrues beyond.)

More Art Cars: A scooter had a green and orange black light mushroom that looked just like that -- A Mushroom! scurrying across the desert floor at night (minus scooter). Or, the what? 61 Olds with a two story structure welded to the frame carrying bunches of people, music and a wet bar. Ever see El Wire? Do a search. 7 colors, battery operated. Fish, butterflies, stick folks, stick cars, (like the light sticks you break but variable lengths & no need to break them), and every other thing you can or couldn’t imagine. There was a golf cart covered to hold its occupant and his lover in two hammocks with remote control speed, brakes and steering. They had umbrella covering for the sunlight.


Stilt walkers, unicyclists (the naked woman with the horn in the Natl. Geo was signing pictures!).


Old VW bugs  turned in this way & out again spitting 50’ fireballs 60’ into the air. Golf carts, scooters, go carts, home made many of them, hundreds of them looking like fish, animals, and undefined things, covered in neon, milar, fabric, lit by blacklight, El Wire & neon mostly. This was The Twilight Zone!

Many fire breathing vehicles throwing out fire balls of various heights and sizes. Each night was the Battle between fire spitting belching machinery that was beyond amazing. HUGE fire balls lit by gasps of various gasses leapt 30’ wide 50’ in the air.

Hundreds of fire dancers. rockets all over the night. The night of the burn, The Man was surrounded by hundreds of fire dancers prior to the fireworks. See the photos. One particular fire dancing couple would be worth noting even without their use of fire as an erotic tool and enhancement to choreography. She would literally be humping his knee as he spun fire around, over and through her. Or, she be bent backwards from her knees, pushing forward, her thighs spread to his fire spinning, demanding his fire between her legs that would be tossed towards her crotch. It was very hot dancing! Don't try this at home folks. His concentration was tantric in its pure hypnotic form and their flow together, even without the fire as I say, was magical and lovely!

A 15’ curvy green throbbing lit thing way out in the Deep Playa that takes a half hour to walk to and doesn't get any taller till you're just in front of it cause of the vastness of this place is interactive.; We looked around for how. After several minutes of 4 of us standing around this thing (we had a cart to get out there thank you) the generator shut off. We said, “Damn, we  got all the way out here just in time before this sucker ran out of gas!” and got in the cart & drove away. Several minutes later I looked back & it was lit & throbbing again. A sensor turns off the generator if someone stands too long near the thing & it turns back on again after several minutes. Interactive indeed! Everyone must say, “We got out here just in time!”


Also out in Deep Playa was a two story bar & casino with four piece jazz band and other various lounge acts. There was a video installation way out as well, about 15 monitors stretched between something strange. A piano player sat out there, surrounded by lots of empty nothing or just people and mountains.

On The Playa, one of the games was “The Maze” a square building where the idea was to get to the inside room where one could go upstairs and down the pole. It was the only way upstairs. Each side had cut outs (mirrors) in each of the 9 corridors that surrounded the center of The Maze that were intended to confuse. And, and how they did! . . . it was not easy to work one ways through this maze. I was rescued after several hours by friends who had made it upstairs, after they became concerned I’d run out of drugs and water.


A Plastic Chapel, constructed entirely of small pieces, for the most part, of discarded and recycled plastic of every shape and color imaginable was the setting for several legal marriages. (it did not burn)


The Man outlined in bright neon was a bit shorter this year then last. At this rate of attrition, there will be no Man by 2036. While it was 65’ high, it sat atop an 80’ pyramid loaded with rockets, fireworks, explosives Saturday afternoon. It sat inside a half mile ring of lights on a controller that moved them on & off at variable speeds looking like a freight train going in opposite directions from afar because of the perspective of something moving fast around a circle from 180 degrees flat.
Prior to The Man burning, the most incredible fireworks & rockets burst happened from within The Man & we were all directly beneath the bursts. Neon, not turned off, popped loudly & hissed as the structure caught fire and napalm and phosphorous explosions added liquid & hot fire to what was already burning.

The Mausoleum sort of sums up it all. It also burned, but on Sunday night to a crowd that in opposition to the noise & tumult the night before at The Man burn, was quiet & respectful, & very heavy. I can’t really describe the construction. You’ve no doubt seen designs in cartoons or your most crazed dreams.

Nothing is really built like this in our reality. First, it was almost symmetrical. Or it looked to be. It was about 60’ square & about 60’ high, at least, with wood chandeliers hanging from openings in the ceiling. The entire structure was made with wood recycled from a plant that creates wooden molds for packaging dinosaur models. Each panel template is about 3x4'. The center of the structure (it turned around an alter like a letter U) used these panels 3 at a time creating a 3/4” 3D effect. It’s hard to describe. The detail on the building with these things cut & pasted over the place was astounding, astonishing, delightful, playful, serious, Byzantine & bizarre.. I've yet to see closeups of this place, but will send them along when I see them.

I went out to view the structure a week before, just as it was being completed. Amazing. I went again the afternoon prior to the Burn to see it one more time. I was not expecting what occurred more then 100’ from the building. I sorta knew that folks would be writing names & leaving messages, pictures, etc. inside.  From a distance, I felt a wave of emotion sweep across the sand like a visible earthquake and through my body. Prior to focusing on one of the several dozen folks milling about, barely able to hear any of the eight Tibetan Bowls being played within, & without any prior warning, I was in tears. Upon getting in front of The Mausoleum, the severity of its meaning stuck & the emotion made more sense. It was heavy. Like being at The Wall in Washington, or as some said, Jerusalem. It’s difficult not to feel emotional thinking and writing about it. Tens of thousands of names & messages scrawled for friends, relatives, heroes, cultural icons on every surface reachable by the arms of human beings. Pictures, messages, poems, books.  Several thousand small pencils were made available. Scraps of wood were also used when all the available surface inside and out was covered. Immense & intense!


The artist was out there. A slight man, intense about 60 years old. Defended the concept of writing the names of suicides and even the slogan, “fuck the man!” saying there is space for every feeling & thought to be burned. The entire experience was one of the more humbling ones in my life.


And, I only saw approximately 1/6th of Black Rock City! It was too large and I lacked an Art Car. I will not next year as I already plan something that ain’t there yet! Yes!

Sensual massage was everywhere. I worked with several people through the week (firedancers and goddesses mostly, a few couples) and was told my work was transformative by several folks, incredible by others, and talked to two today who said I made their trip by opening them up to possibility & they’ve already given out my name & phone number. I’m looking for a program where I can get tested and certified and start making money at this while doing what has been suggested by several friends, body workers & therapists over the past several years. I think my practice is going to be devoted to people who are taking care of people. I already earn some money this way. I may as well take it more seriously is the message I got this week and make it available to more people!

And, I resolved too to leave behind the notion of trying to figure out various computer programs & take some classes in SF’s very fine Bay Area Video Arts Coaliton. (For massage school & these classes, it would be great to find a room to use in SF so I don’t have to go home every night)


And that’s only the beginning.


EVERYONE should attend at least one Burning Man. I'd love to see everyone of you out in The Playa next year. I hope this short note and the pictures you'll see online and that I may continue to send as they become available will help you decide to come participate soon in this experiment in creativity, living and giving.


Thanks for your time, hope this report not too boring. It is most difficult to describe what I've experienced. Please try to be there next year to validate your own fantasies and creativity with your family & friends.


Cheers & Plur, Hal


PS, believe this if you wish, or ignore, but eyes don't tell anything but truth as it is perceived:

No one has yet explained the white dot seen by thousands of us in the northern sky just prior to The Burn which after being still for quite a while, slowly made it's way directly over people who had come in from the north in front of The Man just before the rockets went off, to appear like a globed light & quite a bit larger then that early dot. It could not be seen at all if one entered The Playa from the West or North.
Shit, it could have been a hang glider with the pilot in a lit globe, but 1) they don't stay still & 2) they have no electricity! Initially, it looked like a planet but much brighter. With the energy released from The Man what with the rockets, firworks, napalm, phosphorus & whatnot, few remembered but many others recalled  the next day that very strange thing. It was primarily visible when approaching The Man from the south. No one from the west or north saw it!
Yeah, it could have been a balloon with a battery powered light inside too.

There is a photo published of Black Rock Desert from a NASA shot which
shows the 3 mile wide semi circle imprint on the earth made by Black Rock City which is clearly out of place with the rest of that environment.
There is a trace left for planatary anthropoligists.
Has it been designed as a landing zone?
It is the site where land speed records have been set and looks like an unnatural crop or land cut.
It is.


Hal ‘Phoenix’ Muskat, Rainbow Puddle Liquid Light

8th September 2001






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