Desert Improvisation Experiments – Day 4

We returned to the Day 3 location. We were satisfied with the setup and wanted to explore further. The wind was stronger, but we persisted. We decided we wanted to experiment with some other visuals to see what we like.


After trying out many different projected visuals we found ourselves attracted more to projecting the code, oddly enough. The water visuals were also nice, but without a brighter projector and a more deeply adequate low-light camera, we weren’t able to capture those images so well. We realized that we’re starting to reach the limits of what we can do with the equipment we brought on this trip.


Lat/Lon: 23°00’36.5″N 53°45’39.6″E

Wind speed: ~21 kph

Desert Improvisation Experiments – Day 3

The wind was still going, but much less than yesterday. Projecting down onto a dune was a good strategy, the results were much better.

Setup: We used some wood to angle the projector down. We’re up on a cliff adjacent to another dune across a small valley. Part of the dune we were projecting onto was above us, but because the projector was an ultra-short throw, it could cover the entire dune.

Far shot:

Results: We were very excited. We’re starting to move towards something we like, though it is hard to capture good video in such low light with the cameras we have (it’s also hard to play the flute in strong wind!). We tried Kiori dancing with the live code environment projected, as well as in water footage. The water footage was much dimmer, even with a 5000 lumen projector.





Lat/Lon: 23°00’36.5″N 53°45’39.6″E

Wind speed: ~19 kph

Desert Improvisation Experiments – Day 2

On the 2nd day we scouted some areas we could potentially project down onto a dune from above. This seemed like a good strategy to get a more even projection. We also prepared more for all the sand by doing some plastic wrapping:

Unfortunately, there was very strong wind during the night. We went to our selected spots in the evening but the wind and resulting sandstorms were too much for us and our tech. We’re determined to return and try again on Day 3.

Strong wind:

One of our selected spots for projecting down:

A beautiful full moon though:

The dune sea is alive and moving:


Lat/Lon: 23°03’50.5″N 53°46’36.7″E

Desert Improvisation Experiments – Day 1

Objective – Kiori Kawai and I are in the UAE desert for 5 days to improvise in our respective artistic mediums. The plan is to project on dunes, live code sounds and visuals, and dance in the dunes and projections.

Location – UAE empty quarter (part of the largest dune sea in the world):

Scouting – We rented a 4×4 and go out during the day each day to scout locations to work with at night. The landscape looks like Mars:

We have to be careful not to get stuck:

Set up: We marked some spots on google maps and then returned at night. We brought a deep cycle boat battery and an inverter to run power for the projector and sound equipment.

All sounds are generated in real-time with my bansuri flute going through the live coding sound environment Tidalcycles. I love Tidal, it’s really easy to improvise in and generate some amazing sounds quickly. It’s built with Haskell and uses Supercollider as a backend. I’m using the great tidal-looper library to sample my flute sounds in real-time to manipulate them in Tidal.

Results Day 1: The results were not very great for day 1. We learned that projecting upwards towards a dune slanting away from the projector is not such a good strategy. We experimented with projecting some water video as well as just the code. Because of the angle of the projector and dune the results didn’t come out very well:


Lat/Lon: 23°01’59.9″N 53°46’49.6″E

Hardware: Bansuri flute w/ contact mic; Art Studio V3 preamp; Apogee Duet audio interface; Macbook Pro; Xiaomi – Mi Laser Projector 150; Black & Decker 500w inverter; deep-cycle boat battery

Software: Tidalcycles; Supercollider; Atom; Atom-Hydra; Tidal-looper; Mutable Instruments Ugens

MIZARU installation – Burning Man 2013

Earlier this year Kiori and I applied for a grant from Burning Man to turn our performance piece (MIZARU) we had been developing in residence at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center into an installation.

from this:

into this:
MIZARU - Burning Man 2013

After a few months we found out we got the grant, and with only 3 months to build it (essentially), we quickly assembled a team and got to work. A completely epic 3+ months unfolded. The primary team consisted of myself and Mike Allison doing all of the programming and visuals, Xuedi Chen doing architecture, and John Capogna as the lead build. Kiori led up the team and I composed the music.


The piece MIZARU is about life and death, and how the border between life and death exists everywhere. This border is happening every moment, even though we don’t realize it. It’s hidden and decorated by many things.

The word MIZARU itself is the name of one of the three wise monkeys in Japanese Culture, Mizaru Kikazaru Iwazaru, better known is English as See no evil, Hear no evil, Speak no evil. The literal translation of Mizaru is “not to see”. We use this as an analogy to our “not seeing” our mortality in any real way. Oddly, by accepting our own mortality we actually become more alive, knowing we could die at any moment makes every moment special.

In our installation, we take this curtain off.

The MIZARU installation is comprised of a large transparent structure/box, allowing all to see inside, nothing is hidden. When one enters the structure one is presented with a white wall. Upon touching it, the wall suddenly springs to life creating 5 different worlds of visuals and sound, surrounding the user. This wall is the barrier between life and death.

The Build

First we got a studio in Brooklyn and started ordering supplies.



The build progressed slowly but surely. Here’s a time lapse from one afternoon:


At the same time as the physical build was happening, Mike and I started building the software with Cinder. The installation was to contain 5 “worlds” that the user would experience: illusions (desires), chains (being bounded), fire/burning (destruction), water (birth), and universe (truth). We were planning on re-using some of the content we developed for the performance, but also creating a lot of new content.

Illusion was designed to have images of things that entice us, and keep us from seeing beyond our immediate gratification. When someone presses into the screen the illusion falls apart both visually and aurally.

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 12.10.43 AM

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 12.11.10 AM

Chains is really about attachment to all those things that entice us, and how that actually puts boundaries around us, binding us. For this one, we went with a jagged electrical visual chasing the user’s touch around the screen, symbolizing the actual quality and effect of attachment on us.
Screen Shot 2013-07-28 at 8.40.39 PM

Screen Shot 2013-07-29 at 6.40.30 AM

Destruction is about the ultimate temporariness of everything we experience, it’s all bound to fall apart, pass away sooner or later. We’re caught up in this and effected because of our attachment. Fire is a great symbol of destruction so we used the Firewall visuals (and expanded music) we developed for the performance for this part of the installation.

Birth represents life in the face of destruction. It’s the inevitable result of death, this constant space being created by things passing away. It’s actually hope and possibility and a chance to see through illusion. For this we took a literal approach and created a watery birth canal. As you press into the screen the birth canal and light grow, and ripples move across the screen.
Screen Shot 2013-07-26 at 7.52.58 PM

Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 12.21.38 AM

The Universe sections represents how all things are tied together in causal relationships. We took a somewhat literal approach to this as well, creating a nebula looking fractal image that collapses when pressed into.
Screen Shot 2013-09-19 at 12.08.41 AM

The Install

We bought an old school bus to carry the installation and crew cross country.

This is what it looked like:

Here are a few statistics:
Number of days traveled: 6
Number of mechanics seen enroute: 4
Number of times towed: 2
Number of tires replaced: 1
Number of times ran out of gas: 1
Number of times AAA helped out: 3
Number of times Aaron and Mike changed fuel filter: 3
Number of times added coolant: A LOT
Number of times replaced radiator cap: 1
Number of times added oil: 1
Number of delicious meals Kiori made: SO MANY
Number of beautiful sunsets: 3
Number of beautiful sunrises: 2
Number of times Jack said yee-hah: between 20 & 100

Finally arriving at Black Rock City, our work had just begun.

The conditions in the desert were hard on the technology, our projector bulb burst on the 6th day. But until then it was glorious.

Concept, Design & Performance: Kiori Kawai
Concept, Music, Visuals & Programming: Aaron Sherwood
Visuals & Programming: Mike Allison
Architect: Xuedi Chen
Lead Build: John Capogna
Video: Tomochika Yano, Kaetsu Motomitsu
Photo: Momo Nakayama

Special thanks building team: Jack Kalish, Alexandra Diracles, Andy Sigler, Jun Kawai, Yusuke Danbara, Sarah Rothberg, Yotam Mann, Anne-Marie Lavigne, Adam Quinn, Aaron Vazquez, Noah Zerkin