Burning Man-born DJing art car blossoms in Austin
If you’ve been thinking, “It’s not enough like Burning Man around here,” you’re not alone. Luckily, one art car from the desert extravaganza is making Austin its new permanent home, bringing with it AI-powered tunes and party lights. It’ll be on the street soon, and you’ll know it when you see it.
Passion Flower was created as an experiment to satisfy founder Edward Balassanian’s curiosity around the art cars he specifies as “people movers” at Burning Man. Unlike the art cars that inspired Balassanian, his served a purpose even when it wasn’t on the go.
The vehicle — a nearly 30-foot-tall land boat with a yacht-shape bow, shining with dichroic scales and a weather-vane-like stamen — brought a dance party everywhere it went, and served as a beacon for good times and party reunions.
Eight crew members kept Passion Flower running (a small team in comparison to the roughly 40-person building outfit headed by co-designer Tim Gallagher in Oregon). Some onlookers were invited up to relax, and still more danced on the ground. Throughout its journey, it was flanked by matching Segways that joined the car in its move to Austin as a unified fleet.
“It has a place in Burning Man, but it also is very approachable outside of Burning Man,” says Balassanian. “It’s a beautiful art piece and it’s a beautiful soundstage, and the lighting system is extraordinary. So, unless you don’t like seeing really cool visuals and hearing great music, I think you’re going to be happy with it.”
The car’s concert performance is powered by another company Balassanian helms as CEO and president, AiMi. Passion Flower’s professional-quality 360-degree sound system can function as a regular DJ booth, or it autonomously plays never-ending music in six moods, called “experiences” in the AiMi catalog.
It even runs its own lighting, fit for each mood. “Serenity” and “Flow” are more ambient, not for dancing, but for taking a break. “Chill” and “Lounge” are groovier, with buoyant percussive elements. Finally, “Deep” and “Push” are more urgent club mixes that encourage passengers to get on their feet.
When artists input ideas to AiMi, they upload unmixed loops in various sequences, teaching AiMi how to remix their original music for endless renewal in each artist’s own signature style. AiMi uses its learning to mix, master, and perform all by itself. This creates reliable mixes that change without human supervision, so they don’t get too repetitive as the style continues uninterrupted.
And despite the AI decision-making, since every new experience starts from scratch and relies solely on musician input, it maintains perfect uniqueness. It’s not just noodling on sample beats, and it’s not just for Passion Flower. The application works for free for listeners on Apple devices too.
With all the musical transitions automated, human performers can jam with AiMi in real time. Aside from the in-house AiMi artists who curated the six existing experiences, Passion Flower can invite any DJ on board, opening the possibility of both scheduled performances by well-known artists and impromptu ones wherever the art car ends up. One of AiMi’s upcoming initiatives imvolves working with new artist collaborators on a wider variety of experiences.
Now that Passion Flower has broken out of Burning Man, its purpose is to become a stand-alone music brand, ready to unite music, art, and tech in a way that is accessible to the general public. The art car will make its first appearance in its new home base at the Austin Pride Parade in August. Its only other commitment so far is the Formula 1 Aramco United States Grand Prix at Circuit of the Americas. At this October event, the car will open for Twenty One Pilots and Billy Joel with a DJ set.
The mobile DJ station has been invited to other events around the city that it hasn’t formally committed to. Balassanian says Passion Flower has experienced a warm reception in Austin, a city with a strong sense of whimsy that is keyed into some of the country’s most important technology developments.
It will pop up not just as a party destination, but a tech showcase. Preserving the more improvisational tone of its inception, festival debut, and operational flexibility, Passion Flower is not packing its schedule too tightly right away. Balassanian says the goal for the next year is to provide a more intimate alternative to the large festivals that will be returning after all the pandemic-related shutdowns.
“Austin’s traditionally been a music city and an art city, and now it’s starting to become a tech city as well,” says Balassanian. “For us, it’s timely to bring those three things together in this technology showcase. From that perspective, I think this is a perfect home for us.”