A huge metal door creaked open a few weeks ago, shedding light on a massive art project under construction at the giant American Steel Studios in West Oakland. A dozen or so volunteers were riveting steel plates together to form the horn of a giant gramophone that, when finished, will stand 35 feet high and weigh thousands of pounds.
Burning Man, the famed annual festival of fire, high-tech, and art underway this week in Nevada’s Black Rock Desert, is featuring "La Victrola," an art project that hearkens back to our analog past. The piece is named for the crank up turntables that played records in the early 20th century.
“The age of Victrolas (made by the Victor Talking Machine Co.) was a very different time,” says Nick Fynn, one of a trio of Burning Man regulars who conceived the project. “In those days people had to gather around the piano to hear music, and gramophones were rare at first. So the big picture behind this piece is to think about what we’ve lost with extreme digital music and digital entertainment."
Fynn says the art piece is meant to make people think about the downside of our digital world. “These days, everyone walks around with their cellphone in front of their face, playing Pokemon Go, not even seeing where they’re going," Fynn says.
The base of the gramophone, Fynn says, will be a stage for acoustic performance -- ragtime and blues -- at a festival better known for electronica and other dance music. "I think it’s really kind of epic and beautiful and offers an alternative to the soundscape of Burning Man," says Kim Cook, the director of art and civic engagement for Burning Man, headquartered in San Francisco’s Mission District.