Who Would You Trust To Throw A Piano Into A Crowd of People You Love?

Dancing Serpent Prey
Landon becomes dancing serpent prey.

I experienced some wondrous art at Burning Man 2015. The Flaming Lotus Girls’ Serpent Mother was delightfully interactive, and their pyrotechnic display had me cackling like a mad scientist to enormous gouts of pink, green, and blue flame. The Totem of Confessions was powerfully unsettling and burned as a tower of fire unlike any I’ve seen. The Articulating Squid moved in a more fluid and animal way than any work of metal should be able to. One of my favorite people in the world brought Dancing Serpent, a kinetic sculpture that slithered in the wind and whose stare made me feel like prey. I spent a day during build week volunteering with the assembly of Reflection – a piece whose spiral geometry captivated me even before talking to the architect artist about its origami structure. I was deeply involved in bringing Zooplankton – a 100,000 to 1 scale model of an extinct microscopic organism. I was proud of my design and of the project lead and crew who made it a reality. However, despite participating with art that was considerably more beautiful and to which I had far stronger personal connections, the trebuchet was unequivocally my favorite art piece because it was done by MOOP Map.

I was hooked by the concept alone, and I eagerly awaited witnessing an instrument of destruction cause the desecration of an instrument. Each day I made the trebuchet launch my top priority. For five straight days I arrived at the appointed time to find statements of cancellation and rumors of rescheduling, and then I’d begin to plan my following day around the next possible throw. It would have broken my heart if that flaming piano had never been flung into the air, yet I deeply respect that the good people at MOOP Map had the restraint to delay during bad weather or when they were not completely certain that their equipment calibration would ensure that the piano landed where predicted. I like to say ‘Safety third, fourth, and fifth’ because putting safety first is boring, but safety is still vitally important. The kind of people who are willing to disappoint a crowd and willing to forgo their own beloved event after months of effort if they aren’t certain of the safety are the only people I’d trust to operate the ultimate in pre-gunpowder siege weaponry in a crowded area.

Timelapse photo by Paul Pottorf

On Saturday, the winds and equipment finally all cooperated to make our dreams of pyrotechnic piano plummeting come true. Only in cartoons have I seen pianos come crashing down from such heights. The safety perimeter seemed awfully close to the landing site, though when the projectile landed just where it should have, one felt that the crowd could have been even nearer without coming to harm. Although I was awed by the lofty spectacle and the precise engineering, the more impressive half of the event was the cleanup. The MOOP Map crew cleared the impact site of every scrap of debris within six minutes and twenty-two seconds. That’s right, an entire scorched and exploded piano was completely removed, leaving only spotless playa dust behind, in less time than the world record for eating two pounds of chocolate hearts, approximately the same time that it takes most of us to walk a third of a mile. Let that be an inspiration to us all.


For those who don’t know, MOOP Map documents how well we all clean up after ourselves each year. The Department of Public Works does a sweep of the city and rates each camp and area green, yellow, or red based on how much MOOP (Matter Out Of Place) gets left behind there. I’m rather Leave No Trace obsessed, and am proud that my camp has been in the green every year I’ve attended. However, we can always do better. I am ashamed to say that I can easily recall doing at least two MOOPy things this year. First, I didn’t attach the battery cage for my bicycle lights well enough, so I dropped eight rechargeable AAs and their case onto the playa at some point during one of the white outs. Second, I didn’t lock my bike on Saturday night, when I knew full well it was most likely to get stolen. Honestly, the bike was becoming increasingly difficult to ride, and so I had rather hoped that some inebriated thief would relieve me of the chore of hauling it back to Goodwill. This was irresponsible of me (not to mention of the thief). I violated two principles: Leave No Trace and Radical Self Reliance. Thousands of bikes are abandoned at Black Rock City every year, and now DPW has to take care of transporting something that I brought in. I sincerely apologize, and I thank them for the effort. Everyone, please take a moment to assess how well you did at leaving no trace and to think through how you and your friends can do better next time. I especially urge us all to take better care of the porta-potties since the Burning Man event simply cannot happen if we can’t convince waste management companies to service our honey buckets.

The MOOP Map trebuchet embodied the principle of Leave No Trace, not only demonstrating that we are capable of quickly and thoroughly cleaning up after even the most absurd events, but also elevating that demonstration to the level of art. I hope that the piece will motivate others as much as it has motivated me, and I hope that we will see more art with the Ten Principles at their core.

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