Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Burning Man Stories: Big Round Cubatron


At our theme camp that year, Babarist Babylon(a religious order dedicated to our prophet, the Elephant Babar from the eponymous children's books), a few of my campmates rolled into camp, crowing about a certain art piece.  They may not have known its name at the time, but it was the Big Round Cubatron by Mark Lottor.  They described it a bit, enough to convince me that I had to check it out.  From their description, it was a three-dimensional array of colored lights controlled by a computer.  People were able to crawl underneath it and view it from below.  It was close to our street, a little bit towards the man.

As I approached it, it appeared to be a 2D animated light display.  Getting closer, I started to perceive the depth of the piece.  There were people surrounding it, silhouetted against the lights.  I saw that there were some two dozen 8-foot wooden posts in a circle around one central post.  Each post had a series of thin wires slung between it and the center post horizontally.  From each wire dangled a series of ping-pong balls, apparently lit from within by multicolored LEDs, so that each ball could light up in any color on the spectrum.  The net effect was a 3D matrix of colored points, all coordinated and programmed with a repeating routine. 

I had expected there to be a patch of astro-turf underneath the array to lay on, but it was just bare playa.  Nonetheless, there were other burners laying underneath enjoying the show.  I watched for awhile, then I laid down on my back and shimmied underneath the piece, where there was just about two feet of space to maneuver.  I heard one of the standing spectators comment sarcastically "Great night to lay down on the playa," but I didn't care; I was here to experience everything I could, and if laying down on the playa was necessary for that, so be it.  I lay with my head near the central pole.  Looking up, I was immersed in the field of colored lights.  The matrix of lights took on many recognizable patterns, such as a blazing fire, a rain cloud, and a spider.  Other parts were just dazzling displays of wildly pulsating color, lines, shapes.  One part I recall vividly was when all the lights lit up red, then blue, then green, slowly pulsing between those three primary colors of light, but getting gradually faster and faster.  Eventually, it was pulsing so fast between the colors that my eyes stopped differentiating between the colors, and the whole field started to look strangely white. The program was well-composed to include some less dazzling parts, as a buffer between moments of sensory overload.  A few sparse randomly-colored lines would slowly rotate around the circle, with most of the lights off, lulling us into a relaxed state, and then the next moment, every light would be bright with a brilliant mix of soft pastel colors, sparkling and shifting colors, eliciting "ahs" from the crowd.

I think it was while watching this part that someone talking nearby applied the term "eye-gasm".  I was moved to respond to this by crying out, as though in ecstasy, "It looks GOOOD!" which earned some laughter. 

Someone was passing around paper goggles with refractive lenses, which turned each point of light into a star of rainbow lines.  It was a neat effect, but not necessary for the experience.  Someone else came up with the idea of crossing or unfocusing one's eyes while watching.  I tried this, and it had the effect of effectively doubling the number of lights. 

When I saw the patterns beginning to repeat after about 40 minutes, I knew I had watched an entire cycle, and was ready to move on.

Diamond Tower Cubatron 2011

Diamond Tower Cubatron 2011
Every year since then, I have seen and enjoyed Mark Lottor's variations on the theme of 3D light arrays: a long rectangular one, a conical one, a double cone, and this last year, a torus.

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