Pyrocycles

Installation
2003

Pyrocycles was a mobile pyrotechnic installation built upon the propane-music technology used by the Octopus Car. Instead of a single vehicle with a centralized controller for the sequencing of the flames, it was a decentralized and kinetic system.

There were eight units, each consisting of a bicyclist towing a trailer. Atop each trailer was an aluminum tower, over ten feet high, resembling an oil derrick which always had a small burning flame. Larger bursts of fire were controlled by the cyclist through an electronics controller on the handlebars.

With the ability to modulate the frequency and the size of the propane bursts while riding the trailers around, the cyclists could orchestrate a unique visual-musical performance. Because we were on bicycles, we were a lot more approachable and friendly than most fire-based installations, which usually try to intimidate their audience.

The depiction of oil rigs in a desert environment was intended to evoke the landscape of oil-rich countries in the Middle East. By towing rigs behind human-powered vehicles, we were emphasizing the backwards nature of our society’s dependence on fossil fuels, and the subordination of our energy and foreign policy to that dependence.

Reaction to the Pyrocycles project was mixed. Despite the explicitly political underpinnings of Burning Man, for many participants it is a determinedly apolitical space. For those seeking an escape from the politics of Iraq and the myriad of other unpleasantries they face, flaming oil rigs were a not-so-subtle reminder of the word they wanted to leave behind. Many other viewers, however, were struck by the appropriateness of the icons and their receptions ranged from amusement to deep appreciation of the piece.

On a purely aesthetic basis, the rhythmic effect of the flame and the clean lines of the metalwork were well received, and the bikes often drew a crowd that followed the riders around. Because of the control afforded to the riders, in many cases we were able to provide a pyromusical accompaniment to bands or DJs, which added an extra visual layer to their performances.