Mutaytor to set world drum record at Burn
by Adrian Roberts
Anyone who has been to Burning Man over the past few years is probably familiar with The Mutaytor, the drum ensemble most famous for "battling" Dr. Megavolt at last year's event.
For this, their fifth year on the playa, Crimson Rose asked The Mutaytor to compose a 40-minute musical score for the Fire Conclave processional and burning of the Man. At the climax of the performance, just before the Man ignites, they're hoping that every Burner in attendence - probably around 30,000 - will play along with them, qualifying the project for the Guinness Book of World Records as the World's Largest Drum Ensemble.
Matty Nash, leader of The Mutaytor, sat down with us recently to talk about "The Heartbeat of the Man."
Piss Clear: So The Mutaytor is kind of like a drum corps band thing, right?
Matty Nash: We're a 25-member performance troupe that mixes drum corps and drum ensemble with dual live-cutting DJ's and a brilliant visuals team that merges fire performance, aerial stunts, hoopdancing, and tribal performance.
PC: Wow. Where are you based?
MN: We're based in Los Angeles, but we consider Black Rock City our home. The Mutaytor was born in BRC in 1998.
PC: So, we downloaded "The Heartbeat of the Man" from your website - www.themutaytor.com - and it just sounds like a bunch of various drum beats and rhythms. We thought composing music meant writing actual notes and chords. Your piece doesn't seem to have any. What's up with that?
MN: Reid Defever from The Mutaytor drum team composed the piece. We elected to go drums-only on the "Heartbeat" score, as it seemed to be the best aesthetic match for what the Fire Conclave is doing in the Great Circle. On Burn Night, you'll hear drums play melody as well as rhythm.
There are many forms of music that utilize mostly or all percussion instruments in their scores, such as Japanese taiko, Brazilian samba, and American drum corps. These styles do have melodies, riffs, and notes that are played on percussion instruments.
PC: At the end of it, you're hoping everyone at the Burn will play the same drum beat. Do you really think this is possible?
MN: It's our hope that every Burner will contribute in some way to our rhythms. If that means drumming, clapping hands, or dancing to the music, then we've succeeded in our goal.
One thing that has always intrigued us, is that the burning of the Man is the only time all 30,000 of us are gathered in one place, for a united purpose. Ironically, it is also the only time that practically everyone in the entire city becomes a spectator, watching and waiting for the Man to burn. What we hope to do is flip that precedent around, and turn the burning of the Man into the greatest act of participation in the history of Burning Man.
One interesting facet to our project is the simplicity of its design: any non-musician, non-dancer, or non-rhythmist knows exactly what the heartbeat pattern is - because it's inside our bodies 24/7. Everyone knows the heartbeat, and performing it on a grand scale shouldn't be that big of a challenge.
PC: Ultimately, this is just an attempt to make it into the Guinness Book of World Records, isn't it?
MN: We will indeed be attempting to break the world record for Largest Drum Ensemble. However, this facet of the project isn't one of our primary goals, rather just some fun icing on an otherwise very tasty cake.
PC: But how the hell are you going to get an accurate count of all the drummers?
MN: Guinness has given us a very clear description of how to gauge our success: Track our website downloads for the "Heart-beat" piece, track e-mail inquiries and responses, and submit videotape and satellite imagery showing the entire city playing.
Perhaps the most crucial part is having people sign our postcards, which have been sent to everyone's camp via the Black Rock City Post Office. We would like to ask everyone who participates in this project to please read our postcard, sign it, and return it to the BRC Post Office in Center Camp, or bring it to our camp at 5:00 and Dogma.
PC: What if the people in the crowd just can't play all that well, and it just ends up sounding like it does every year: a cacophonous clatter of off-time drum beats and rhythms? Can you still qualify for a world record?
MN: There is no doubt in our minds that at some points in the performance, it will do just that - and it will be glorious splendid cacophony and chaos! For me, that's also part of the true feeling and power of Burn Night!
The "Heartbeat" piece is a four movement symphonic piece, and we're hoping that at the beginning of Movement Four, we can get everyone to synchronize with our music. The criterion for Guinness doesn't require accuracy in terms of execution, but then again, this project is not about that. It's about uniting people - giving the Man a song that's worthy of its greatness. And seeing if we can't make the playa rock a little harder on Burn Night.