The Listener

The Listener

The Listener is an interactive art piece our arts group, Skylark Collective, debuted at Burning Man 2019. This post is a background story by Rob on the art’s origin.


The Listener was originally inspired as an idea to create a piece that people would touch and would result in some kind of light show or performance. 

I was watching animatronics videos made by Aaron Fechter, who is kind of this god of musical animal animatronics. I had this concept of building a giant animatronic rabbit that would raise out of a cylinder and play electric guitar. 

That idea withered after I tried to build some animatronic eyes with an Arduino in early October of 2018 and realized how hard DIY animatronics actually was.

Around this time, the Burning Man arts organization was opening the call for participants to submit a Letter of Intent. I began discussing the ideas with Miller, who had never been to the burn but was a good friend and electrician by trade.


I’m not sure how I got to Simon exactly. But one day I started thinking about and researching the playback of the game Simon from the 1980s. I was so set on the idea I bought an original, vintage copy of the game off eBay.

I searched the web and found tinkerer and experimenter Simon Inns (coincidentally also “Simon”) who had reverse-engineered the original game Simon and published his results

His deep investigation of the game, From the microprocessors used to frequency of tones played back by the machine the wealth of information he had online gave me more confidence to think we too could recreate it.

From Big to Small

At first I had an idea for the center column to be absolutely massive. Inspired by a structure I saw walking in SE Portland, I thought a giant umbrella or mushroom-shaped center structure would be awesome.

Original Concept Rendering for a Massive center column for The Listener

It wasn’t long before I started thinking about how hard it would be to build something that size. I also realized that something shaped like this could easily topple without serious support cables and possibly crush a participant!

And talking with Miller in the living room we got it down to being something small. Something the size of an industrial cable spool.

The First Electronics

Photon, (who would go on to become Skylark Collective’s Master of Hardware and Software) visited Portland and we assembled an Arduino-based prototype of Simon with tiny buttons over a long weekend.

We made a video of this working and included it with both our Letter of Intent and Proposal.

The Spool

This was the keystone for moving the project forward. Miller acquired a large wooden industrial wire spool. It would serve as the foundation of our art.

The story continues from here, but I wanted to record the earliest aspects of our first interactive art to show how vulnerable and open to change the idea was at first.


Happy Holidays

While decorating this year, I tried my hand at creating a Man head ornament made out of balsa wood and parchment paper. I used an x-acto knife, super glue and a mostly-steady hand.

The actual man design specifications are apparently not published. But the org did share a blog entry in 2008 focusing on the man head design, suggesting it is accented subtly from year to year.

Initially, I tried to measure photos of the man head to get a feel for the length of each side, but ultimately just improvised until I had something that looked about right.

The face lattice has five vertical lines and nine horizontal. Each crossing is notched on both sides, which meant 90 cuts not including a few mistakes. The project took about four hours.

A few friends suggested doing a large 3D one in the place of an angel at the top of the tree. Maybe next year!

Wishing you and yours a happy holiday season.

About the Collective

Skylark Collective Origin Story


Skylark Collective Image Banner

I started using the name Skylark in 2014, immediately following my first burn. I had camped solo my first year and yet had grand visions of starting my own placed camp. I discussed the name with Cheese, who offered a few ideas over email including a sonic forest and chill area. 

As with many ideas “for next year” that occur immediately after Burning Man, my vision Camp Skylark was never realized. Still, I used the name, “Camp Skylark,” the following year for a two person camp in the AEZ village.

Then, after I, Robot in 2018 I decided I would try my hand at building art for the event and use the honoraria grant application process as a guide toward being successful. I worked on a Letter of Intent with Miller and in submitting that I named our art group Skylark Collective.

But What Does It Mean?

The word Skylarking is a nautical term which described the act of climbing up and slide down the the backstays of ships for fun. A backstay is a line that runs from the top of a mast to the stern or back of a boat. 

The Start of Skylark Collective’s Voyage

Today, according to Merriam-Webster, Skylarking is “to engage in attention-getting playful or boisterous behavior,” and secondly “to engage in activity for amusement.”

These descriptions are apt to our art group because while there are many reasons we build art, the primary one is that it is for the sake of personal amusement. Each of us find the act of creation itself to be a source of personal joy.

And the Bird?

Not dull, but maybe a bit plump thats all.

According to Wikipedia, the Eurasian Skylark is a “rather dull” looking bird. However the word “lark” usually refers to this species and a group of these types of birds is called an”exaltation.”

Which means our collective, when thought of as dull looking birds is actually a feeling or state of extreme happiness.

Site News

Welcome to the Skylark Collective Blog

Kicking off the first entry in our brand new blog for Skylark Collective.