July 2010

A Funny Thing Happened in Fresno, on the Way to the Farm

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On the way up to the Farm, I dropped into Fresno to catch a jazz show with my old friend Ric. Ric was quite a character: he’d been to jail a few times, lost at sea at one point, in crutches at least twice and who celebrated kicking his drug addiction by drinking liters of coffee and smoking like a chimney. He was also a hell of a jazz player before he’d fallen down some stairs.

After the show, we grabbed a few drinks at a local restaurant / bar / music lounge where a few of the jazz musicians had moved on to. The Fresno girls that waltzed in and out were surprisingly loud and trashy. We didn’t stay too long and Ric offered me a spot to crash at his place.

Ric had always had interesting friends and his roommates, or more accurately, his hosts were no exception. He led me through a living room that was either being renovated or just falling apart, it was hard to tell in the darkness. He pulled at a bookcase and it came ajar, revealing a carpeted staircase. I crept upstairs, tip toed past some sleeping dogs, and passed out on a sofa.

As I opened my eyes, I found myself on a dusty couch and for a moment forgot where I was. I happen to find that feeling quite enjoyable – it’s like waking up in a new adventure and trying to figure it out. The dusty room was ornately decorated and furnished with a full oak bar and as my eyes drifted downward they met the stare of 3 equally dusty poodles. Big questions in my head were centered around the responsibility of successfully creating and leading community. And no random house could have been more helpful to wake up in.

I came down the stairs and out of the book case to a morning breakfast scene. Ric and his host, an 86 year old sociologist who wrote a book called “primitive drinking”; Chandler Washburne, had taught for years at UC Fresno, been a friend of Kerouacs and married to Ex belly dancer Beyla, who herself had previously been married to Spencer from Jefferson airplane. I sat on a faded floral-print couch in his study and began a conversation that lasted well into the afternoon. Some of the things we covered:

  • Learning the social OS
  • Dynamics of various sized communities
  • Can communities run in a decentralized way or is hierarchical leadership needed?
  • ‘Encounter’ groups from the 60s
  • Benevolent dictatorship, positive emotional
  • Distributed leadership
  • Pre lingual laws Only as many as Can be remembered
  • What is the mission out there and do you know if you’ve achieved it.
  • How do you quantify social success?
  • Establishing of rules and objectives
  • Lead by action not by mandate
  • Consistency is crucial to successful leadership
  • Laughing is an extension of panting – it’s a mammalian thing
  • Rat licking experiment – rats that got licked by the mothers were friendly and more exploratory, others were more anxious. This is epigenetic..
  • Brains develop differently, ability to use language plays a huge roll in this
  • Most people hear music with right side of brain, but musicians use the left because they can put names to things..
  • Artists communicate in a non standardized language
  • Social hackery to manifest changes, appeal to a visceral emotion
  • We don’t see the actor, we see the part they’re playing
  • It’s a grand experiment / life is improv
  • If life is indeed a play, then all roles must be filled!

With many of my questions answered, or at least on the way to being answered, I sat down and wrote a long email to my Burning Man camp, discussing many of the things that we had covered over glazed donuts that morning.

How can serendipity be so abundant!?

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Swimming with Sharks at the Standard Rooftop

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Few things say “summertime in LA” like the bi-weekly Swimming with Sharks on the rooftop of the Standard Hotel in downtown LA. Here’s how it feels to me: a bunch of kids were all at free swim, playing around and being care free. Then all of a sudden, everybody was transofrmed into a 20 or 30 year old adult. However, everyone is still acting like a kid, wearing funny hats and bathing suits, splashing each other and frolicking around. Only now, people are drinking champagne from bottles and everyone is feeling horny.

It’s really quite a fantastic way to spend the long summer Sundays. When the water fights get tiring, it’s fun to take a break on the astroturf lined sun bathing areas and order some more champagne. After all, we’re all just mischievous kids and Monday is but a distant concern 🙂

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Barn Raising at Smash Labs

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Back in LA it was exciting times and Syyn Labs was really beginning to gain momentum. Not only were we working on a fun project that was paying our large crew hourly, but there had been definite progress on finding a new space to call our own. Meeting at Barbara’s Bar at the Brewery had been fun, but as we grew this thing into an actual company – that just wasn’t going to continue to work 🙂

Smash Labs was a local creative space, and was made up of a few groups, including Mutaytor which practiced there and used it as a wood shop. They had found a new space, just a few blocks away from the Brewery artist community (where I was living). In an exciting twist, it seemed like one of the warehouses within this new space (called Big Art Labs) was up for grabs and Syyn had first dibs. In a effort of neighborly love, we helped them move all their crap out of their old space. Of course not without finding some cool props to pose with along the way. Syyners pictured: Dick Whitney, Dan Busby, Jenda Michl, Me, Cousin Gilles d’Amecourt, and Mat Heitel at the bottom.

So it turns we’re just a bunch of characters that enjoy each others company and getting together to work, or create things that don’t yet exist. And maybe along the way we just might get paid, maybe in big bucks, or maybe as in this case, a thick wad of Karma dollars.

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A Return to the Farm

Sometimes serendipity takes you by surprise – but sometimes, if you really pay attention, you can catch it with its hand in the future jar. After serving a Vipassana course back in April near North Fork, CA, I had experienced a great stroke of luck. At the end of the week, a fellow meditator, a Thai man named Sathya, had informed me that he was visiting a farm up the road and asked me to come along. Of course I’d agreed and as soon as I had entered the property and met Hansel, the farm owner, I knew – right then and there – that this place would hold a great importance to my future.

I had been in touch with the family soon after returning to LA, expressing my desire to offer them a little rent in exchange for letting me come up from time to time. They told me that that sounded like a great idea and to just give them some heads up before I came through. I could have easily put it off, after all, who has the time or capacity to stop life and go live on a farm? Well, the beauty of a lot of the work I I is that is can be done online – and the farm was blessed with DSL and even decent AT&T reception. Technically people didn’t event have to know I was on a farm 🙂

So soon after a joyous July 4th in the woods of NorCal, I ascended through the winding mountain roads to North Fork. I passed through the little town and continued driving into the Sierras, carefully noting my odometer so I would not miss the nondescript turnout for the farm. I had even made a note of the combination lock of the gate, so when I finally found it after a few wrong turns, I was able to open it right up and find my way to the small cliffside studio I had rented for the week.

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Part of the deal however, was that I had promised to help out on the farm as much as I could and the very next day at the crack of dawn I found myself, together with a handful of volunteers, moving large amounts of earth to create some new fruit tree terraces. It was a extremely liberating feeling, being out in the sunshine, creating something with my energy that would produce unquantifiable amounts of new energy in the future, in the forms of apple, pear and cherry trees. Around lunch time, the days work would come to an end and we would all gather in the main house for a big vegetarian lunch.

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I spent the afternoons and evenings in quiet solitude down at the studio. Writing in my journal, doing yoga on the porch and reading a slew of old books, magazines and articles that I’d neglected over the previous months. Occasionally I would take small hikes around the property, discovering small waterfalls in hidden groves and exploring the rusting artifacts in the farms junk yard. As evening fell, I would often sit on the large rock that clung to the cliff’s edge outside the studio and look at the winding river one thousand feet below. When the sun set it would often casting rich reds and purples long after the burning yellow orb had disappeared behind neighboring mountains.

This had been the first time I had visited the farm since discovering it in late April. As I locked the gate behind me, I was glowing with a sense of calm satisfaction and creative fulfillment, ready to tackle whatever the City of Angels was cooking up for me next. It could toss me around and suck my energy, but as long as I knew this farm was here, I knew I could always have a place to heal and get ready for the next iteration.

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Possum in the Sink – A 4th of July Mystery!

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Don’t ask how it got in, but it was loving Adam’s unwashed dishes 🙂

As for me I was on the run for NorCal, to a little town called Belden for False Profit’s yearly July 4th celebration! FANTASTIC!

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A+D Syynterstitial Party

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The amazingly sustaining part of the Syyn Labs and OK Go RGM music video Collaboration is the continued mileage we are both getting out of it. The video has had over 15m views at this point and from the Syyn Labs angle, we continue to get gigs and have had multiple gallery shows. The most recent, Syynterstitial (Part 1), was a one night, packed Tour de Force, led by none other than my cousin Gilles d’Amecourt. The entire front half of the A+D museum was filled with all sorts of contraptions that were featured in the video, from tiny lego stages to the spinning to the paint blasted suits and even the water glass playing guitar. In the back area, behind a thick black curtain put in place but our tireless supporter Quin, was our interactive artwork showcase: David Guttman’s projection pieces and Eric Gradman’s glowing “Standard Gravity”

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The event attracted over 300 people throughout the evening paying $10 for an evening of live music, free drinks (served by wonderfully sexy bar tenders) and interactive fun. The quality of the people was fantastic, hammering home that between Mindshare and Syyn Labs, I am pretty damn good at creating social filters that attract awesome people – which is the entire reason that I started doing events in the first place, with the first Mindshare back in 2006.

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