“Which is more musical; a truck passing by a factory or a truck passing by a music school?”  John Cage

Welcome to Moop

One of the many delightful new ideas brought to us via Burner Culture is that of moop – “matter out of place”. Meaning predominantly litter and detritus, but also things inappropriately placed. One of the 10 Burner principles is “Leave no trace”, and is designed to make us wasteful westerners think twice about how we interact with the environment.

Afrika Burn (and far more so its parent Burning Man) is not a simple back-to-nature event, despite a strong stream of green awareness and survivalist minimalism. It is more than that, and incorporates at times almost impossibly complex structures bordering on madness, and requiring truckloads of materials and months of preparation. The central piece of Tankwa Town, The Wish by the Upsetters, for example, is an 8 M high spherical installation of hoops within hoops, meticulously designed, transported and assembled for the pleasure of all.

One definition of a “weed” is a plant that is not where you want it to be. So matter out of place might not mean necessarily rubbish or spillage, but could apply to things no longer appropriate. On the main, all matter, including structures at Afrika Burn are required to be disassembled and removed at the end of the festival. I believe that certain exceptions, such as for the Wish, are allowed, and that’s fine – the point is being made.

Many attendees got this, and tidied up meticulously. Others, however, might have been on another planet. I refer to the default party faction, whose assumptions include that “this space is for my personal gratification and waste disposal”. Apparently at big dance camps like Vuvuzela’s people felt entitled to throw their bottles and other detritus away on site, left for someone else to tidy up. In one episode of the Simpsons, Homer gets elected to Mayoral office with the slogan “Can’t someone else do it?” meaning “I vote to alleviate myself of all responsibility”, and this same Dubya-style thinking seems to be enduring. Moop is a sad fact of life.

It is not only visible solids that constitute this matter. At least as concerning as sequins, boa feathers, or double ply toilet paper, are the gaseous wastes caused by biomass burning, diesel fumes from generators, or the exhaust emissions caused by all that transporting. Cooling man has done an interesting study of emissions, showing how un-green the Burner experiment actually is. This is not to say it is not a worthy experiment, but it need to be seen in perspective. The Temporary Autonomous Zone is an idealistic space which can transform our thinking in many ways, but we need to apply this thinking back home in the towns and city, in a truly sustainable manner.

To do so, we will need to consider the full product life cycle – the total amount of energy required to sustain our commodity heavy lifestyles. The cost of owning a car must include not only its fuel and maintenance bill over its lifetime but the energy used in both its manufacture and its disposal. One reason why solar technology is sadly not yet viable is because most current solar panels will never recoup the amount of energy used in their manufacture. True sustainability must use a “heuristic of righteousness”, by which I mean a thoroughly holistic perspective, which spans all relationships, for all times.

Chief Seattle of the Salish tribes, said in 1854

“The earth does not belong to man: man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood, which unites one family. All things are connected.”

A worthy mantra.

Wave-particle duality

This brings me to other aspects of “oop”: not just matter, but waves and energy too can be misplaced. To see sustainability as involving energy as well as matter is a start to this awareness of connectedness. And for me the most out of place energy at Afrika Burn was sound energy.

At Sanctuary, we had an expressed desire to create a space with communal intimacy and sacred potential, an oasis in the desert where people could find hospitality and acceptance. Important to this is that there is enough quietude and calm for napping, being still, or conversing. We served refreshments – our own blend of tea, and baked and served breads. We curated jam sessions and did a choral workshop. Using Nautical 12V batteries and no generator we played a variety of musics: chill, north African, Buddha bar, a few songwriters.

At some point, a large sound system mounted on a hummer style vehicle was requisitioned to provide sound for neighboring camps. What was a cozy chill space was flooded by music the exact nature of which must remain uncritiqued, for I don’t want to get into any combative musicology here. The basic point is, our contemplative liberties we infringed. It is not so much that it offended me personally, but it undermined the space we were curating. I’m generally an iconoclast, but in my opinion, conversation and stillness are sacred. Loud music injected against our wishes became a desacrilising act. I’m also known to have a very fussy ear, trained and pained muso that I am, and I own this bias.

Perhaps more problematic was the vain search for a peaceful sleep. OK on a Saturday night it’s a good sweet thing to party away. But when it’s 1, 2 or even 5 am and I can hear at least 3 totally independent sound rigs causing mind numbing cacophony in their non-cooperation, I have to question the limits of tolerance. Which brings me to the age old political question of liberties infringing on each other.

Tenant “Radical Self Expression” says “Respect the rights and liberties of the recipient”. I can say that the cultural assumptions of the Party Element contravene that sentiment precisely. And spectacularly as well – almost round-the-clock, there was publicly broadcast music on the go. I like the partying, the celebration, the out-there-ness, even the loudness at times, but each act of loudness takes away from the acts of stillness.

Quiet, please!

I love the emerging culture of Afrika Burn. It is a confluence of several tribes, interest groups, and subcultures. But this holy diversity brings with it a challenge. Specifically, how can those seeking conversation, intimacy and quietude live alongside those seeking pleasure, celebration, and larging it?

A trend worth mentioning, which I noticed in interactions, was that of the “post-party seeker”. Here are those whose stock answers are running out, whose auto-jol responses are proving less satisfying, and who are looking beyond personal gratification for meaning. They have given themselves to self expression and probably learned a thing of two about overcoming repression, but as The Verve put it “The drugs don’t work…”, and they need a new paradigm.

What is going to provide this? The church or organised religion? In my experience they are at large almost totally unprepared for this task. Apologies if this sounds ungenerous or judgmental, but I am critiquing my own team here. Part of my proposal is a new spirituality whose values include inclusion, the community of all things, creativity, a grace centered theology, and a new revisioned relationship with the Sacred. This involves conversation, willingness to change, freedom to celebrate, honesty, and an economic of grace – giving and gifting with our whole beings.

In Soop we have a conflict. There is an internal clash between Conversational Contemplative Creatives and The Party Animal Party. But it is the sign of maturing, it is a call to re-evaluate the assumption that I can carpet bomb my environment with no regard for its delicate balances. How to implement this in a Burner Culture? Well possibly a Meditative Moratorium or a Conversational Curfew, I do not know.

DJ’s, MC’s, ravers, post-partyers, players, prayers, anarchists, seekers, sustainers, nurturers, let us down tools for a while, and just talk.

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