ideas for a minimalist fireworks display composition meant to bring a community together

most of the time i’ve ever seen fireworks, i’ve found myself dissatisfied with the lack of form and aesthetic pacing in the presentation.  Usually there’s a group of a particular type of firework that gets shot off, and then there’s a pause, and then there’s another group, and then there’s another pause, &c until the big finale where they shoot off more fireworks at once as a climax.  After a while, i just get bored.  If i want to see random flashes of pretty lights with pretty sound, i can just turn on an iTunes visualizer.

I’ve never seen the kind of fireworks that are super coordinated presentations all sync’ed by a computer program.  I bet that if composed well i would like that quite a bit, but it’s hard to make a judgement call without having any first hand experience in it.

During the Tulane homecoming fireworks show, as i found myself annoyed at the lack of form and tension and real understanding of how to make that more effective to the common viewer, this idea started to form in my head for a minimalist composition of fireworks that would span over the period of a month or more.

I heard about a piece of music that La Monte Young wrote in which a heavy weight was placed on one of the notes of  a huge pipe organ in a large church in europe somewhere and was essentially blasted at its loudest volume for the span of a couple of weeks.  The idea was based on that basic minimalist principle that an extended sound and a repeating sound isn’t the same as the time you’ve heard it before because the context of time makes it different.  There’s also the idea that the piece served as more of an installation piece – you got to walk around the church and hear how the note was different depending on the particular acoustic area that you were in, and could get yourself lost in the absolute pureness of it as it echoed in grand style that those cathedrals promote.

Thinking about pieces of music or sound installations with that sort of time scale and vastness is what brought about this idea for a fireworks composition.  Pick any beautiful night scene area – in my head i picture a waterfront – and have a single firework go off one night at a designated time.  Chances are, no one would notice it happening – they might hear the sound of it, some may see it, but they wouldn’t think much of it.

The next day do the same thing, but do it with two fireworks.  The next day do three.  All at the same time at night, all at the same location.

At some point, people will catch on to this.  You set it up like clockwork, you create that pattern of one more firework every day, and you start to create expectation.  The number of fireworks that go off have to be easily countable – everyone needs to deduce that gradually the fireworks are adding more and more.

And of course, like all great music, at some point, that pattern needs to be broken.

Exactly how it would be broken is something i don’t know yet.  The “dick move” thing would be to not have fireworks at all one day, but in my head the piece isn’t supposed to be about alienation or pulling the wool from people’s eyes.  The point is to make people excited, and bring people together.  And while i may want to play with that a little, maybe create the hint of disappointment, ultimately i would want to do that as a means to generate new excitement based on the unexpected.

Two easy ideas: first, delay the fireworks by five minutes.  People will start to get restless, maybe some people will wonder if it’s even going to happen, if it’s a wasted trip.  But five minutes is a reasonable delay – start it five minutes later, people whose expectation started to waver will find some small or large degree of exultation when the fireworks actually begin.  Suddenly the event is revitalized, becomes exciting in a new way.

Then for the next week, delay it anywhere between zero minutes and ten minutes.  You don’t want to wait longer because you don’t want to waste people’s time too much – and by creating a variable expectation that no one can really track, people who really want to see the fireworks display will show up on time or early, and in that potential wait time, strangers might talk to each other.  A sense of community develops. people strike up conversation, share in snacks and drinks.  it becomes an event.

The other variation that could get added to the mix is to change the location of the fireworks themselves – in my head i see it as “the audience is facing one way where they’ve always seen the fireworks, and then one day they go to the same spot and they have to turn around.”

The whole thing would happen with no real explanation except that in the area where there’s an optimal viewing vantage point for watching the fireworks, i’d put up a pedestal of some sort with an unmarked QR code on it.  Capture that QR code and you get taken to a website that explains what’s happening.  Maybe right away, or maybe the information will be revealed gradually.

In my head, i think the piece would last about two months.  That feels both long and short – i have to think about it more.

Random Glass Encounters #1: Fremont Street

I always love interacting with strangers – i generally have a very optimistic and positive outlook about people and love hearing the wide variety of unique stories that people have to offer.  It’s one of the reasons i love playing poker in casinos and have an affection for public transport such as the New Orleans street car or airplanes – it offers opportunity for interaction between strangers that when passing each other on the street would not give each other the time of day.

I wore Glass a lot during my vacation time in Oregon, Washington, and Nevada these past two weeks, and i quickly discovered that Glass was another conduit for random stranger interaction.  There were quite a few people who recognized what it was and were very “fanboy” regarding the device, and there were others who may not have recognized it but were curious enough about it that they would come up to me and ask me what it was all about.  Wearing Glass made me more approachable – and while the resultant interaction had much more to do with me and Glass than the strangers i was interacting with, it was still pretty neat to see their reactions to seeing it and trying it on.

As a result, i’ve decided to start creating a blog series that document the more interesting of these Random Glass Encounters, something that hopefully over time will evolve and refine itself as a means of sharing great stories about strangers and about humanity.  The interaction I had with a street worker on Fremont Street is what inspired this idea, so it feels appropriate to start with him.


These two guys were working Fremont Street in Las Vegas, walking up to passersby to convince people to go into the Plaza Casino.  The guy in frame was about to hand me the pamphlet and probably give his marketing schpeal, but as soon as he saw that i was wearing Glass, all thoughts of his job went out of his head and he immediately asked very enthusiastically, “Is that Google Glass??”

One of the Glass Explorers forum topics that i see on our little elitist discussion forum is the question “What do you do if someone wants to try it on?”  I haven’t read through that because i’m sure that opinions are pretty polarized.  I know that people are probably fairly wary of someone running off with a device that they sunk $1500 into, there’s also potential issue of privacy for all of the data on the device, etc.

For me, one of the reasons i got the device in the first place was to share it.  The likelihood that someone is going to run off with the device feels pretty low probability, and the reward of giving someone the unique experience of wearing it far outweighs that low risk.  In fact, i’ve found that in some cases i have to take a fairly aggressive approach regarding sharing the device – most of the people who approached me asked questions about it, but didn’t ask if they could try it on, probably because they’re afraid to ask or assume that i would say no, so I’m the one that has had to say, “do you want to try it?” and help them put it on.  Almost everyone has had that “opening up Christmas presents” look on their face when given that opportunity.IMG_20130726_131844

I remember very clearly that when I asked this guy if he wanted to try it, his eyes got wide and he asked, “are you sure?” and i said of course, no big deal, and helped him put it on.

He was immediately enamored with the device – it was clear that he was pretty fanboy about it and knew about it generally (he knew that it was in limited beta, he knew i had to pay $1500 to get it), but he didn’t know a lot about the specifics of what it actually did and how it worked.  So i walked him through the basic functionality of taking pictures and video as well as the other features of the device.  I discovered fairly early that Glass can pick up my voice commands even if someone else is wearing it, so I did an “okay glass, take a picture” while he was wearing it to get another of what people have been terming “selfies,” and the reaction on face when he realized that i was giving it voice commands to take a picture was priceless.  I did the “okay glass, record a video,” and ended up taking a 13 second video while he had it on:

The other guy knew about the device too and asked a couple of questions but was otherwise pretty sideline about the whole thing.  After another minute or so of talking, mainly speculating about what the price of the device was going to be when it went public, they both walked off.  He never did hand me a pamphlet or even tell me which casino he was promoting – i had to look at the picture afterwards to figure it out.

I wish i had gotten his contact information so i could have forwarded the pics with him wearing it.  I’m sure he’s told his friends about it, likely posted something on facebook or google plus about it, and knowing that Glass created that sort of personal story for him makes me pretty happy.


Picking up Glass, and initial positive and negative thoughts

There’s about four blog entries that need to be written about my trip out here – two about Glass and two about other random things that happened during the trip that are the sort of thing i would blog about.  I thought i’d get one of these out of the way while everything is still buzzing around my brain and before things get stupid crazy at work and with my second west coast trip.

So the response i’ve given most often to answer the inevitable “what do you think about Glass?” question, is “it’s interesting.”  Google Glass is interesting.

First, the experience. Then the technology.