Michael Garfield – How To Live in the Future: October 2011

29 October 2011

A Grip of New Hats & Burning Man Music Videos

"Sometimes, as a result of people leaving their original intended career and going into something else where their creativity could make a difference, depressions and all kinds of other unfortunate events can have a paradoxically stimulating effect. We are living in a time of unexpected possibilities...many important creative things can happen when people learn from disasters."
– Historian Edward Tenner

"Not worrying about rent allowed me to spend my time doing what I love. Living a nomadic existence has been hard at times, but it's allowed me to live in beautiful places and keep a balance in my life that I'm happy with."
– Physicist Garret Lisi

Life's most creative moments seem to have something in common:  they all involve taking an old idea and putting it in a new context (eg, genre crossovers, biomimicry, invasive species, and doing something you never expected with your education).  It's a formula heavy on my mind as I say farewell (for now) to the gorgeous Colorado Front Range and get ready to make my way down to Austin, Texas to find a new angle and hopefully a new grasp of my usefulness to this age of transition...

In the meantime, I encourage you to take these riotous autumn energies and use them to fuel some checkpoint life inquiry.  I recognize that my life so far is a comedy of errors and that none of my dearest friends, proudest achievements, and awe-inspiring experiences would have happened if everything had gone as planned...and that I also need to kick myself off the rails every once in a while to keep my life challenging and fresh, infused with new perspectives.  Can't be an example to anyone else without first taking the leap of faith, myself.  Maybe I can use this momentum to encourage the same in you.

If I'm doing this right, all of this is subliminally encoded in these trippy hats and guitar music...

~ Custom Hats ~

There is something so appealing about hand-painting custom hats for people – a combination of the affordability of small-scale original artwork, the notion of wearable paintings, and the opportunity for soul-reading I get to do when coming up with something that'll really suit someone.  If you'd like one, take a gander at the gallery on my facebook art page, where you can find the info on how to order your own unique and memorable lid.

Here are the latest – both custom designs and a few I have available for sale.  Click on the images to view them in full detail:

Custom design for Whomp, Austin TX

Custom design for Ricky Elm

Consigned design for Whomp, Austin TX

Consigned design for Whomp, Austin TX

Custom design for The420Spot, Austin TX

~ New Music Videos ~

One of the most memorable shows of my musical life so far was at this year's Burning Man Festival, where I helped test-run The Music Box, a new portable music stage and studio in a shipping container, designed to be dropped into disaster areas as a way for survivors to enjoy and share their musical culture.  Burning Man is often discussed as a kind of test bed for post-apocalyptic society, and it was a real honor to contribute in my small way to this wonderful project. 

Rites of Passage: Live at Burning Man – recorded at The Music Box, as well as Saraswati Tea House and the legendary Center Camp Café, will be available for free on 11/11/11 at michaelgarfield.net.  In the meantime, I invite you to enjoy these videos from an exceptionally raw, vulnerable, and energetic performance:


"Underground River" (passionate loop-based electro-ballad)


"You Don't Have To Move" (extended guitar technique showcase anthem)


"Die Before Dying" (improvised thematic loopscape with nylon brushes)

More art, music, and philosophy from the other side of the Boulder/Austin divide very soon.  In the meantime, please go get connected with my facebook art and music pages, enjoy the numerous free talks and live albums I have up online, introduce me to your friends...and don't despair, because we are all stepping forward into an era of celebratory collaborative culture, and each of us has something special to give.  If there's any way we can help each other, please let me know.

17 October 2011

Introducing Denver: Live Art Capitol of America

Originally published in Kush Magazine.

 Live painters from across the U.S. working on a collaborative mural at Sonic Bloom Festival 2010.

“The Mile High City,” Denver has developed something of a reputation as a mythic city on the hill, a holy mountain where musicians flock to the sweet nectar of the scene and the “green rush” of medical marijuana has opened the possibility for a new culture of arts patronage.  But the rarefied air of America’s new cannabis capitol is also atmosphere to the historical epicenter of another progressive movement:  live painting.

Painting as a performance, usually as accompaniment to live bands or electronic musicians, has exploded in recent years as a symptom of the evolution from the concert as a spectator sport to entertainment events as participatory multimedia environments. Part of a re-tribalization of culture enabled by border-breaking electronic communication, this new breed of concert encourages dancers, video artists, and installation designers to collaborate on fully immersive spaces that transport attendees from the mundane world outside to mini-festivals where the overwhelming display of creativity triggers a sympathetic response.  The internet world where an increasing slice of society resides is highly interactive, responsive, and tactile compared to television or print…and consequently, people are starting to demand more from these older media.

Live painting – which destroys the ancient stereotype of artist-as-solitary-magician by planting the studio amidst reveling crowds and integrating real-time feedback from the audience – is an idea whose time has come.  And it finds a natural home in Denver, where the music – be it jam bands, bluegrass, or electronica – has always been about making parties happen.

There are many excellent live painters in the accelerated cultures of San Francisco, Los Angeles, and New York, as well as fringey college towns like Austin and Asheville.  But some of the Denver area’s landmark venues have famously supported a multi-generational live art culture that took the art from the sideshow amusement it was in the days of “Speed Painter Denny Dent” to the international movement coalescing today.

Chaeli Cardenas, Michael Garfield, and Kevin Odenedo painting together at Red Rocks for Sound Tribe Sector Nine, September 2011.

The momentum of this movement was obvious when documentary camera crews descended on the Arvada Art Center last year, after community elder Keith “Scramble” Campbell organized an historic marriage of live painting’s rascally outsider culture with the institution of fine art.  There is no one better than Scramble to do so – the man spent decades introducing people to the art form as the resident artist of the legendary Red Rocks Amphitheatre just outside of town.  It was at Red Rocks that I was first inspired to paint at concerts, watching Kris D paint with touring instrumental electronic band Sound Tribe Sector Nine.  I am one of many.  And four years later to the day, I found myself painting at Red Rocks, inspiring an even newer generation of live artists.

Live artist J Garcia speaks to the Film Cartel documentary crew at the Arvada Center in 2010.  Their new movie about live painting, ScrambleVision, will debut in the 2012 film festival season.

Scramble and fellow local live painter John Bükaty – with nearly forty years of experience between them – are two of many who have helped popularize live art at venues like Denver’s Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom and Boulder’s Fox Theatre.  Concertgoers now often expect it as part of the production.  Local megabands like the String Cheese Incident have always encouraged it, and SCI family electronic music festival Sonic Bloom has one of the strongest showings of live artists in the nation.  (Full disclosure:  I have been live art director at Sonic Bloom for the last few years, so there’s no small amount of home-team pride behind these words.)

Rae Vena, Michael Garfield, and Warren Binder were just three of over a dozen live artists at Sonic Bloom Festival 2011.

Cervantes in particular has kept an open-door policy for local and national artists who want to contribute their talents to the commons.  Live art events like “Thunk,” organized by Scramble and Bükaty, brought artists from across the U.S. – movement founders like Los Angeles’ Norton Wisdom and New Orleans’ Frenchy – to collaborate on massive indoor and outdoor murals.  Throughout the year, Sonic Bloom holds parties that routinely draw nearly a dozen live painters into the 600-person house.  The walls proudly display art created on site, and the mythical lost Welton Street Mural – one of the largest live art collaborations ever – is hidden beneath beige paint outside, cultural catastrophe at the command of a building owner who didn’t get it.

Left to right, live painters Scramble Campbell, Lauri Keener, Dylan Brooks, and Patrick Beery converge on Quixote’s True Blue in Denver for “Thunk,” a multi-generational celebration of painting to music.

The area has made such a name for itself as a haven for live art that deeper forces must be responsible, “something in the water.” Live painters Amanda Sage and Andrew “Android” Jones grew up in Boulder, mere miles from the home of legendary visionary artists Robert Venosa and Martina Hoffmann…connecting the region’s independent western attitude through the Viennese “Fantastic Realists” to a centuries-old tradition of mastery.

 Martina Hoffmann and her husband, the late Robert Venosa, at work on a collaborative live painting at The Mishawaka Amphitheatre in 2010.

Between the noble European tradition and more contemporary graffiti culture, it exerts an undeniable pull. For an entire subculture of nomadic live artists who follow concerts like the native peoples of this land once followed the buffalo, Denver is an important stopping point on the annual festival circuit.  For other more stationary artists across the country, it has become a kind of live art Mecca.
Nationally-acclaimed live painter Jason Garcia moved here from the Bay Area around the same time as an influx of new blood from Kansas, Texas, Wisconsin, Illinois, Ohio, and Virginia.  It is a palpable tide of creativity taking shape.

Internationally-touring visionary artists Alex & Allyson Grey painting at Cervantes Masterpiece Ballroom in April 2011.

Here at the edge of the Midwest, perched on strategically advantageous high ground where the crisp air and mountain view gives everything a sense of adventure, a growing cadre of live artists is working to liberate three generations of suburbanites from their alienation.  Live art isn’t just a symptom of the internet’s new society of transparency, or a gimmick; it’s a spiritual guerrilla movement to help everyone recognize their personal calling and collaboratively create a new positive vision for society.  It’s leadership by example, telling people, “You can do this too.  Don’t deny your creative spirit.  Get out there.  Take the initiative and shine.”


ChelseaLyn Graber painting live at Sonic Bloom 2011.

14 October 2011

Two Paintings-In-Progress, Going Away Concerts, & More Cyborg Philosophy

"As if snapping out of a trance, I found myself not out of my mind, in the sense that I was crazy, but rather, inside of my mind, which was now discovered to be everywhere, in that I was beginning to realize that I was dreaming."

"Everything is funny as long as it is happening to Somebody Else."

As summer turns to autumn and my impending move from Boulder to Austin looms ever-nearer, change is in the air.  Appropriate to the season, it's a time of closing accounts and kisses goodbye.  But I won't wear black to my own funeral – so the next couple of weeks are going to be full of parties!

Beyond hosting a flexible-price sale on all of my original paintings to raise money for the move, here is how I'm celebrating the end of four years in Colorado and the leap into a new adventure:

8 pm - 2 am: live painting & body art by donation at SONIC BLOSSOM
with Ott, Random Rab, Kraddy, Janover & Karsh Kale, Octopus Nebula, Project Aspect,
Phadroid, Govinda, The Human Experience, Bird of Prey, and more
- last scheduled live art gig in CO -

8 - 11 pm: three full songbird & cyberacoustic guitar sets (FREE)

9 - 10 pm: cyberacoustic songbird set w/ Three-Legged Fox ($7)

6:30 - 9 pm: balladry & cyberacoustic guitar sets (FREE)
- last scheduled concert in CO -

...and now on to the juice.  We got new artwork, new writing, and new music in this one.  But first, here are pictures from last weekend's live painting fiesta at Art Outside – an absolute gem of a festival, positively overflowing with amazing undiscovered artists and musicians.  Click through to the gallery, and feel free to comment!

Photos: Art Outside 2011

As part of my emphasis on process, I've always tried to find ways to make this blog more immediate and immersive – to bring the people who can't be at every show into the experience of live art and music.  (Hence the photo album above.)

But I'm spending more time on each piece these days, which means a longer lag between when you saw me at the show working on the painting and when it finally spreads its feathers and does a mating dance for your brain.  So here are snapshots of two paintings-in-progress that I started over the last month, caught in their awkward pimply adolescence.  Click to view full-size:

Many Worlds (tentative)
2011 09 01, 02 Burning Man Festival - Fractal Nation Village
(Left Coast, Heyoka, Mimosa, Dov, FreQ Nasty, Ill Gates, An-Ten-Nae)
& 2011 09 10 Red Rocks Amphitheatre (STS9, Savoy)
paint markers on stretched canvas - 24"x36"

A minor homage to the worlds-within-worlds paintings of my friend Melissa Leigh...minus the worlds, of course!  So that's where this piece is headed:  a unique terrarium ecology for each of those floating orbs.  If something goes horribly wrong, I might just paint a big Brontosaurus on top.


Mobius Brain (tentative)
2011 10 07, 08, 09 Art Outside Festival
(Psymbionic, David Starfire, Bird of Prey, Riders Against The Storm, Sorne, Ricochet, Dolomites, Soundfounder, Butcher Bear, Kinder Lo Phi, Ntropy, Nicoluminous, Happy Happy James)
paint markers on canvas panel - 24"x30"

As many paradoxes as I can fit into a single painting...it's like the Impossible Fork times a million.  Painted myself into a corner with this one, and eager to see how I paint myself out of it.


Recent Philosophy Riffs

For those of you who enjoy heady ideas (and that's hopefully all of you), here are two recent articles I wrote for transhumanism website Acceler8or about 1) our evolving relationship with emotional machines, and 2) the implications of CERN's recent superluminal neutrino research...some of the more interesting topics, I think, here at the edge of the future:

"Coevolution & The Technology of Desire"
A few years ago, the first emotional robot pet hit the market. Designed by the co-inventor of Furby, Pleo the Dinosaur is an adorable little beast, big eyes and feet, curious and playful and a little awkward...just like a baby dinosaur, except it comes in a box and is full of electronic innards.  Pleo — as well as earlier incarnations like Furby, Teddy Ruxpin, and even the Pet Rock — speak to a deep-seated human desire to relate with the world around us. It only makes sense that as the machine world becomes more and more a part of daily life, our technology’s rocket trajectory out of the spirited and sentient world of our ancestors would plunge right back into an age of cute computers. (read more)

"And Now, Faster-Than-Light Culture"
Last week’s discovery at CERN of neutrinos traveling faster than light has physics forums buzzing about the possibility that this is “solid” evidence of long-hypothesized additional dimensions. This is big news. For the first time in the modern world, the existence of invisible spatial dimensions is in the public discourse. Science is the closest thing much of the literate planet has to religion these days, and this is far closer to the otherworldly transcendent mythos of early cities than the heady, highly existential relativity physics delivered to us from on high by Einstein. (read more)

New Cyber-Acoustic Guitar Videos From Burning Man

I was honored to play the Center Camp 2011 Aerial Dance Showcase at this year's Burning Man.  Unfortunately, dust got into my digital audio recorder and the only surviving record of that performance is here, captured in these two short videos...a glimpse of dust and light, love and survival:





Much more music video on its way as I gear up for the 11/11/11 release of Rites of Passage: Live At Burning Man – in the meantime, all of my music is (as always) free or pay-what-you-like at MichaelGarfield.net.  If you haven't already, take my latest live album, Alive in the Zone of the Rose, for a spin...it's a transporting hour of my signature blend between acoustic songwriter fare and electronic guitar looping psychedelia, the musical version of my visual art.

HUGE thanks to everyone for supporting my tireless efforts by buying music, introducing your friends to my work, offering your thoughtful feedback, and inspiring people with your own creative lives.  Don't hesitate to write if you have something to say, and have a beautiful day!

06 October 2011

My Burning Man Talk, "Evolutionary Transitions In Individuality"

"The challenge of the transhuman is to actualize our unique individuality within the much larger planetary collective...most recent usages of 'transhuman,' it seems to me, have forgotten most of this, and mistaken the 'transhuman' for the 'ultrahuman' – a kind of upgrade to the same basic model, still denying our connection to each other and the environment.   In my view much of what we call 'transhuman' these days – the technological enhancement of our already existing nature to cling to life and deny the role of death, for example – is, as Friedrich Nietzsche wrote, 'human, all too human.' It is an individual ego’s vision of evolution."

A temporary break from visual art while I run off to Austin's Art Outside Festival this weekend and paint up a storm...in the meantime, enjoy some food for your brain and heart with my definitive rant on the evolution of our species beyond our current notions of selfhood and into a new planetary unity:


From the download page:

As electronic media and ecological catastrophe converge to unify individuals in a new planetary culture and identity, we can look back to the emergence of multicellularity, the advent of social behavior, and the appearance of syntactic language (all of which have occurred numerous times in separate groups of organisms) for insight on how humankind will make it through our own apocalyptic era.

This talk, given at Burning Man 2011's Red Lightning Camp, explores how converging crises catalyze organizational transformations biologists have come to call "evolutionary transitions in individuality" – and how this all applies to humankind's current global rite of passage.  Don't worry, we've been through this before...

(In the spirit of the gift economy, all of my recordings are available for free. If you are inspired by this talk, please carry on the spirit of giving by making a donation, or paying it forward with random kindness.)

For the more visually-oriented, you can watch the first ten minutes of this talk on Youtube:



A Philosophical Disagreement

If you resonate with and would like to join the discussion about the future of the human species, let me suggest jumping in on the comments thread for Jason Silva's recent blog at Huffington Post, "The Beginning of Infinity."

I don't ordinarily invite people to participate in philosophical disputes, but this is a special case: on the one hand, I'm honored to have been quoted by Silva alongside Timothy Leary, Buckminster Fuller, and Paul Stamets; on the other hand, I am horrified that my words were used to support his manic, uncritical techno-utopianism.  Silva completely ignores the reality that new technological power requires an equal evolution in human consciousness, if we are to survive these changes.  It's the exact naïve, power-enchanted hysteria that Disney criticized in The Sorceror's Apprentice seventy years ago.

Of course, I might be over-reacting, or just plain wrong.  Let me know what you think...

For those of you who feel like participating in the debate (or at least watching from the sidelines), I left my response in the comments to the article, permalinked here.

New Cyber-Guitar Video

And in music news, you can now watch me improvise "Mamma Gaia," closing track from my album A Million Anniversaries: CyberAcoustic Guitar For Lovemaking – which, by the way, recently topped 2,000 "likes" and is still completely free to download...



You can watch all six videos from the album in my new Youtube playlist for A Million Anniversaries while I'm getting the next series of live music videos from Burning Man ready to go.  Starting next week, I'll post a new video every week until the free release of Rites of Passage: Live at Burning Man on 11/11/11.  Lots of great footage I'm excited to share!

As always, don't hesitate to reach out to me for any reason.  Thanks for reading and have a wonderful week.