view stage three: part two here.

02.03.09 Sendoff Event

images by Wayne Tillcock

01.28.10 The Illuminated Thread Stage Three Sendoff Event

Saturday, January 30, 2010Davis, CA

4:00 – bike the loop
Starting at Davis Little League Park (Covell Blvd. & F St.), we’ll bike our 14-mile training loop one last time. Come do it with us!

6:00 – brownlands bonfire
We built a fire ring at an abandoned industrial site. Come get cozy under a full moon. We’re grillin’ so bring something to throw over the coals.
From Davis Little League Park call Brett to be escorted in.
[note: the Davis Brownlands is private property. Although we don’t anticipate trouble, trespass at your own peril. Consider this cancelled if it rains.]

10:00 – aftergathering/danceparty
Houses without furniture are great for parties. Brett’s on the decks.
3305 Chesapeake Bay Ave. (a.k.a. “The Plex”)

We'll understand if you pick and choose from above. Friends of friends are welcome. Jackets and caps are recomended for the bonfire, difficult shoes are not.

Davis Little League Park on Google maps
The Plex on Google maps

01.22.10 Training

It looks like we’ll be deferring the departure until February 5. Eri—oops! (Sorry Eric). E’s rims won’t show up on time and we’ve decided to complete and properly document a construction project we started some weeks ago (more on this later). Meanwhile, E and I have begun the transition out of civilized society by taking middle of the night conditioning rides in full rain gear. In addition to working a series of neighborhood strength building stations (monkey bars) into the training loop, we've incorporated little mission objectives like make an audio recording or locate and purchase an obscure type of battery, all while soaked, cold and borderline delirious.

01.18.10 Additions

I’d like to formally announce a January 28 departure date. I’ve added several sites to the itinerary, extending the leg by between 600 and 700 miles at a time when I should probably be scaling the project back for lack of funding. If you’re planning to donate eventually, now is a good time.

The audio recorder has arrived and is undergoing extensive testing in inclement weather. Although its primary tasks will be field recordings and interviews, it’s got me thinking about doing a podcast.

Perhaps the most significant piece of news: I’ve taken on a collaborator. "E" (not the one from Eels) will be joining the thread and is building up an oldish Raleigh frame he once referred to as a “space bull.” E studied film at UCSB and is gifted with bikes and video equipment. His lifelong interest in aviation should be well rewarded by several stops on the leg. He's terrified of UAVs and hasn't ruled out a written piece on the politics of remote warfare. The decision to remain anonymous is tied to a fear that large corporations may not be as likely to back his own future endeavors if he's associated with this one.

Lastly, several clearly identifiable themes are emerging for Stage Three. In no particular order they include:

water projects—it’s dry in the desert so pump in water from somewhere else.
alt. energy—it’s also sunny and windy.
utopian architecture/settlements—“we’ll build it out here where no one will stop us!”
prison camps—undesirables isolated from the population.
mines—extracting resources from the ground.
dumps/boneyards—depositing waste back into/onto the ground.
aviation research and development—Skunkworks, drones, missile testing, private spaceflight.

E and I were looking at a video clip on mothballing passenger jets for long-term storage and he mentioned how mindboggling it’ll be for some desert dwelling future human to come across hundreds of half-buried airliners centuries from now. A monument from antiquity if there ever was one.

01.04.10 New Reader Orientation

Welcome to The Illuminated Thread: a journey by bicycle into the murky unknown of the deindustrial age. You’ve come at an exciting moment. The first decade of the twenty-first century is behind us and Stage Three: Los Angeles to Houston is just over the horizon. If it’s your first time here let me suggest a few places to dig in:

The project’s goals and upcoming sites can be found on the ‘about the project’ page. If you’re thirsty for more, there’s a thorough Q & A section at the bottom.

A lot of ground has been covered already (Chicago, Portland, San Francisco, Los Angeles, San Diego) and it’s all waiting for you in the ‘archive’.

Blue Room and The Joy of Infinity are video favorites from Stage Two. Stage One’s golden boy is Sonata 38. They look great full screen and the best way to avoid infuriating lag is to hit play then pause until they’re completely loaded. If you’re missing a plug-in or would prefer not to wait, I can send you a DVD. The whole collection can be viewed on my Vimeo page.

If you're the linguistic learner type there’s Brea, CA: ecology of an oil town and Simplot Soilbuilders as well as reams in between.

Finish the tour on the 'support' page, pick out a donation gift and help get this bird off the ground. I’d like to be on the road again by the end of January but it won’t happen before another $1,350 is channeled into the project. Yes, I realize it’s winter (not traditionally the best time for bicycle touring), but the days are already getting longer and I’m headed for the relative warmth of the desert.

If you’d like to be added to the mailing list, have a burning question, or just wanna get in touch, I encourage intelligent communication. The email is brett [at sign] burnthefurniture [dot] com.

navigation note:
No, it’s not your connection or your imagination: the pages are large and cumbersome. I’ve intentionally applied only minimal compression to the site’s images. I hope you’ll agree they’re worth waiting for.

12.29.09 Koyaanisqatsi: Life out of Balance & Powaqqatsi: Life in Transition

The first two films of Godfrey Reggio’s Qatsi trilogy have been captivating stoned undergraduates since the 80’s and, on the doorstep of a new decade, deserve a fresh look. Although a bit heavy-handed and didactic by today’s standards, the films are shot at a level of cinematic intelligence I’d be lucky to someday reach. None of the little moments of extraordinary depth and beauty that make the films worth watching were manufactured; the filmmakers were simply at the right place and time to capture them. It’s in this documentary sprit that most of the video content on this site is made.

Although Reggio frames the binary as the northern hemisphere (Koyaanisqatsi) and southern hemisphere (Powaqqatsi), It could similarly be thought of as first world versus third world or industrialized economies versus developing. I like to think of the pair in a temporal sense—with the human powered world depicted in the second film occupying space on either side of the Boeing 747-shaped curve that describes the industrial pulse.

Koyaanisqatsi relies heavily on time lapse, an approach that speeds an already hectic industrial world, making us and our activities look ugly and absurd. By contrast, all the slow motion in Powaqqatsi evokes dignity, grace and harmony. Although I’d like to avoid relying too heavily on speed adjustments to the footage I take, cinematographer Ron Fricke’s work dissolves any apprehensions I’ve had about taking really long shots. Not one of Fricke's but perhaps my favorite sequence from the first film is its rocket launch finale: not only amazing to watch, but a good metaphor for the industrial age.

The films have an anthropological lean that further ties them to my recent work. With the pair, Reggio has constructed a global cultural identity—a portrait of humanity (in the 1980s). He describes it as an attempt, at the moment of crisis, to take a step back and evaluate our specie’s situation. It’s this broad view of the industrial age’s conclusion I’m suggesting I can capture by giving The Illuminated Thread globally scaled ambitions.

Koyaanisqatsi touches on a bunch of my current interests: abandonment, demolition, power plants and energy, resource flows, freeways, consumerism, technology, space flight (as a symbol of limitlessness), megastructures, mining, modernist architecture and as the filmmaker puts it, “The beauty of the beast (our shining way of life).”

The films' official site.

12.02.09 Stage Three Overture: California's San Joaquin Valley

Having ridden California’s coast from top to bottom, it feels wrong to snub its inland valley. Before officially beginning Stage Three, which launches from LA, I’ll get myself from the Bay Area to Southern California by loosely following Interstate 5 along the western edge of the San Joaquin Valley. I’ve packed an ambitious seven sites into what’s shaping up to be a 450-mile jaunt expected to take ten days or less.

In addition to paralleling the state’s primary north/south automobile conduit, I’ll never be far from the 444-mile long California Aqueduct. The river that flows uphill is the main artery of the California State Water Project: one of the world’s largest water storage and transport systems. I’ll take a look at the pumping station that starts off the Aqueduct as well as the country’s largest off-stream reservoir.

A 250,000-acre semi-arid grassland plateau is also on the list. The rare and fragile ecosystem of the Carrizo Plain supports the state’s largest concentration of endangered species. The most substantial chunk of native grassland left in the state is also home to an abandoned photovoltaic array: once the world’s largest.

The oil production at the valley’s southern end is the other mega-system on this mini-leg. Besides paying my respects to California’s single most productive well, the Lakeview Gusher, I’ll swing through the 75 square mile Elk Hills field with its 2,387 active wells and three power plants. Before reaching Santa Barbara for a few days rest, I’ll cross the mountainous Los Padres National Forest and over 5,020-foot Pine Mountain Pass.

Related: Invisible-5 Audio Project

11.13.09 Brownlands Fitness

Drawn to the industrial abandonment’s potential to critique the highly ordered spaces in which we live, I’ve begun to consider practices particularly suited to the disorder of ruined space. In doing so, I hope to expose widely held convictions regarding the social uselessness of such places as shortsighted and naive. In this spirit, I set out to design a physical training program that would make use of the Davis Brownlands’ varied forms and structures. Loosely based on Georges Hébert’s Méthode Naturalle with a nod to Parkour, the idea was to see the space as a vast playground; to evaluate the objects within it for their potential to be scaled, lifted, leaped from, or bounded over. Once home to a sprawling tomato processing plant, most of the site’s original constructions have been removed, erasing the spatial order they provided. Very little remains to suggest how the space should be engaged with or to delineate routes along which bodies should move. This blank-slate condition permits a freedom of movement greater than that found in parks and other spaces designed for exercise. There are no illustrated placards on the site’s blocks, short walls, chunks of concrete, and jungle gym water tower explaining how to use them or which muscle group they’re intended to strengthen, yet each begs to be incorporated into the routine.

The fact that the space is between uses and therefore under-determined, a non-space set apart from the city, means it’s beyond the prying eyes of fellow citizens. It’s a space in which one is free to act in ways that might elsewhere be limited by a restrictive self-consciousness. I was running at the site one afternoon while a dominatrix and her submissive took snapshots of each other. Although the space feels remote, the existence of a world outside the fenced tree-lined compound is occasionally brought to one’s attention by automobiles trickling along the horizon.

What you’re hearing is me pounding on the inside surfaces of the same empty water tank that provided acoustic enrichment for some recent whistling performances. Because there’s nothing like raping out a high-decibel noise to get you pumped up to run around, primal drumming with two halves of an old broomstick became a pre-workout ritual. The sound waves have nowhere to go and bounce around inside the enclosed column until they coalesce into a thunderous roar better heard through earplugs. It’s a noise that would certainly draw attention and probably concern were it made in a more regulated part of the city. The production of an insanely loud sound, typically considered antisocial behavior, is afforded sanctuary by ruined space.

In some ways this piece is related to the Dixie Square Skate video I shot some time ago. Both involve physical activity performed in an abandoned space and highlight the transgressive potential of such environments. Because they’ve been relegated to the world of trash, derelict spaces don’t shoulder the burden of having to provide a revenue stream. The activities they accommodate can be partaken in without money exchanging hands. The choice to set both videos in the context of ruined space implies a refusal to participate in commercialized, officially sanctioned forms of recreation.

11.06.09 Tower Lapse

A cloudy sunset found its way into the Davis Brownlands watertower—not really sure how. (Six minutes compressed into ten seconds, repeated six times.)

10.21.09 The Possible Audible

Visuality overwhelms aurality in the cultural balance of the senses. The light that sparks the presence of objects and environments seems to be instantaneously everywhere and thus assumes a state of being that has proved to be particularly attractive to Western culture, whereas the actions that produce sounds appear scattered in space and time, tied to events that merely take place within a larger state of being.
--Douglas Kahn, Noise, Water, Meat: A History of Sound in the Arts

The author goes on to discuss how artist John Cage “set out to tilt the balance in favor of the ear” with work that disassociated sound from singular events and reminded his audience of its ever-presence. Because the atoms that compose matter each vibrate continuously with a resonance that can be “heard,” even the most unyielding of objects can be said to have a sound.

In an attempt to abolish the sensual favoritism evident in my own artistic practice, I intend to focus a good part of my attention on the varied soundscapes the desert has to offer. From the whine of Predator drones over El Mirage to the whispers of polyester clad spirits haunting the North Shores Yacht Club. My hope is that when the artistic yield of stage three is appraised, aural elements will be heard carrying as much weight as their visual counterparts.

A fresh artistic approach often requires a new set of tools. In this case it’s a pair of binaural “in-ear” microphones and a high-resolution WAVE recorder. The binaurals, worn like earbuds, pick up the sound collected by the pinna or fleshy outer ear. This positioning imbues the recording with spatial cues that provide a naturalistic sense of the three dimensional world. Since everyone’s pinnas are unique, your brain may be slightly confused by a recording made with my ears. Don’t be upset however since this is more likely to be a pleasurable sort of confusion than the type responsible for anxiety.

Practice with these tools of the sonic trade should benefit my acoustic sensibility. I expect to build upon the foundation laid by The Joy of Infinity and make the evocative quality of its audio the standard for future work. So dust off the headphones your mom bought you when she was sick of hearing “that infernal racquet” coming from your bedroom. You’ll want them for this one.

10.14.09 DVD Release

I’ve just completed a compilation of all the videos produced during stage one and two—38 vignettes in all. If you’d like a copy of the disk just email me your postal address and I’ll send one your way. brett [at sign]

Amendment: The first run of 44 disks have all found their way out into the world like the windborne seeds of a dandelion. If you got one then it probably means I love you. Second run editions will be offered as donation gift items.

10.09.09 Colossal Land Vehicles: the real and the fantastic

I found this image (left) of a German bucket-wheel excavator and imagined discovering the hulking mass rusting in some played out strip mine a hundred years from now. The 13,500-ton mobile mining machine is pictured here crossing a road during a fourteen-mile journey that took three weeks to complete. A friend remarked that it looks “steampunk” and Howl’s Moving Castle came to mind. The 2004 Miyazaki film features a magic fortress that wanders the countryside on four improbably scrawny legs.

While the Bagger 288 is powered by 16.56 megawatts of externally supplied electricity, a fire demon by the name of Calcifer keeps the castle in motion. As real and fantastic versions of colossal terrestrial vehicles, the pair embodies that all-important duality: the everyday versus the supernatural. One is the cursed home of a narcissistic wizard, the other a product of an energy hungry society. If the thread makes it to Germany, “The Bagger” will be high on the list to visit.

09.08.09 The Joy of Infinity: audio recordings


Uncut audio recordings of watertower whistling performances in case you want to upload them to your iPod and take a moonlit bike ride someplace remote (not recommended for the potentially drowsy). Watch out, they’re pretty catchy. Once again, I don’t condone the use of laptop speakers to listen to anything of quality.

These recordings, and The Joy of Infinity piece they were made to accompany, hint at a meditative spirituality I hope to draw from the rusty forms left behind by the industrial age. If the sound of air passing through one’s lips can be elevated to such haunting heights by a steel cylinder bolted to a weedy slab of concrete, I have high expectations for the many industrial landscapes waiting to be explored.

08.29.09 Stage Three Update

For there are two deserts: One is a grim desolate wasteland. It is the home of venomous reptiles and stinging insects, of vicious thorn-covered plants and trees and unbearable heat... visualized by those children of luxury to whom any environment is intolerable which does not provide all the comforts and luxuries of a pampering civilization.

The other desert -- the real desert -- is not for the eyes of the superficial observer or the fearful soul of the cynic. It is a land which reveals its true character only to those who come with courage, tolerance, and understanding. For those the desert holds rare gifts.
--Randall Henderson

I’m well into the planning phase for stage three (Los Angeles to Houston) and will begin raising funds in September. The route is 1,750 miles and loosely follows Interstate 10, passing through Phoenix, Tucson, El Paso, and Austin before reaching the Gulf. Major side trips include a northward jaunt out of San Bernardino to visit El Mirage dry lakebed, as well as a loop around the Salton Sea.

Scattered throughout the Southwest’s vast tracts of wide-open land are places long forgotten. Some of what the desert keeps out of sight and out of mind would be problematic placed closer to population centers and its arid climate and seismic stability are ideal for the long-term storage of everything from hazardous waste to aircraft. 65 percent of the nation’s raw copper is produced in Arizona and I expect to see much of the industry’s workings.

Logistically, the leg will be the most challenging yet. There are several remote stretches, greater than 70 miles, where neither food nor water will be available. Trees and other natural windbreaks are few and far between. In such a depopulated part of the country, the psychological effects of prolonged isolation will not go unnoticed. It should take just over a month to reach Houston but I’ll budget for 45 days.

Here's the official waypoints list.

Related: A New York Times article on economic contraction in the Sunbelt. I’m sill looking for unique sites in Phoenix but beginning to think I might just document empty retail spaces and abandoned subdivisions. I love how the owner of the soon to be failed home-furnishings business uses the chirping crickets cliché to convey how quiet it is in his parking lot. His comment of course connotes gloominess: an empty lot means no customers. But I think it lovely that the sound of a living creature has replaced the drone of automobile engines. Also, (and I’m at risk of sounding callous here) Mr. Preciado will be given the opportunity to occupy himself with something a bit more meaningful than hocking window coverings.

I’m looking forward to the desert’s inky-black star-filled night sky. This map confirms it’s out there. (Briefly interrupted by Phoenix.)

view stage two: part three here.
stage three: part one

Los Angeles, CA to Houston, TX