Better Than Coffee: ArcAttack!

Good morning, loves. How was your weekend? I spent most of mine stumbling around the San Mateo county fairgrounds, gaping at the endlessly astonishing/inspiring/overstimulating 2-day geextravaganza that is Maker Faire. Still feeling a bit fried. Pleasantly so. Speaking of getting fried at Maker Faire, here’s a glimpse of what the ArcAttack! performances on the appropriately named “Tesla Stage” looked and sounded like:

Yes. That’s what a man in chain mail wrangling pure lightning looks like. His name is Patrick “Parsec” Brown. He’s ArcAttack’s MC. I sincerely hope that dude gets hella laid. That goes for ALL the guys on the ArcAttack crew. Way more groupie worthy than the average rock band, if you ask me.

Based in Austin, Texas, ArcAttack’s been developing their tech and stage shows for the better half of a decade now. For their astounding audio/visual displays, ArcAttack has invented a completely original DJ setup:

HVDJ pumps music through a PA system while two specially designed DRSSTC’s (Dual-Resonant Solid State Tesla Coils) act as separate synchronized instruments. These high tech machines produce an electrical arc similar to a continuous lightning bolt and put out a crisply distorted square wave sound reminiscent of the early days of synthesizers.

ArcAttack performing the Doctor Who theme song at Maker Faire, 2010. Photo by darthdowney.

First and foremost, ArcAttack is all about putting on a show that is not just a concert, but an otherworldly experience. In doing so with the technology that we’ve created, we hope to inspire minds, the young and the old, to take up an interest in science, the arts, and their applications, to examine where they intersect, where they are going, and to re-examine the works of past researchers and performers such as Nikola Tesla and Delia Derbyshire in light of the ever evolving face of this amazing world. Maybe they’ll have as much fun as we have. But either way, we want them all to enjoy the show, and maybe, just maybe, be inspired to help to leave the world a little better than the way they found it.

Are you awake yet? Are you in love yet? Many more ArcAttack clips after the jump.

Better Than Coffee: Tornado Rider

Last weekend, I ventured to a fundraising bash at the gargantuan, labyrinthine Vulcan complex in industrial Oakland. Coilhouse correspondent Neil Girling has aptly described the bohemian warehouse collective as “something of a dollhouse mixed with a rabbit warren.” Magical place. The folks over there literally just finished building out their new Vulcan Theater wing. Tons of gonzo musical acts and DJs came out to help them raise some cash and celebrate: Thee Hobo Gobbelins, David Satori of Beats Antique, Totter, Sour Mash Hug, various Vau de Vire Society performers, Sisters of Honk, Gooferman, Barry Syska, and a band I’d never heard of before, Tornado Rider:


From the back of the crowded room, I watched the butch-yet-elfin trio set up their gear and line check. Warming up, drummer Scott Manke and bassist Graham Terry displayed precise and prodigious punk/metal chops and sported broad, welcoming smiles. Bad asses, both. They were soon joined by singer/cellist Rushad Eggleston, who wore a Robin Hood cap with hot pink lightning bolts adhered to it, a matching pair of exercise shorts, lime green tights, sneakers, and little else.

Two words sum up Eggleston’s persona succinctly: delightfully implausible. His countenance and physique are a bit like Frodo Baggins’… that is, if Frodo was hella manic, worked out a lot and washed down his lembas bread with entire crates of Volt High Performance Energy Drinks.


Eggleston plugged his axe (lav mic’d, plastered with day-glo stickers, guitar strapped) into a batch of effects pedals and let loose with a string of arpeggiations that could leave no doubt: this fella had been classically schooled out the wazoo, but long since abandoned baroque, powdered wig fare for PURE UNTRAMMELED RAWKNESS.

Tornado Rider launched fists first into a blazing 40 minute set that peaked with a song called “I’m a Falcon”.  Manke and Terry provided thunderous vamping as Eggelston leaped from the stage, scaled the wall with his cello slung over his shoulder and perched, teetering, on the balcony railing to rock out, howling “I’M A FALCON. I’M A FALCON. YEAH… THE FASTEST BIRD ALIVE. THE MASTER OF THE SKY. YEEAAHHYUH!” Here’s a clip of that same song performed at the Magnolia Festival a while ago. Eggleston took the madness a step further, launching into a tuneful, shredding solo while hanging upside down from the ceiling:

Eggleston’s jaw-dropping climb begins about 4 minutes in.

Guys, you really need to see this shit live. It’s raw, joyful, silly, gorgeous virtuosity. Go. Seriously. GO. Dance. Get your asses rocked and grin until your faces hurt. You won’t regret it, I promise. Tornado Rider is touring all over the States this year, with more dates in the works for Europe at some point down the line. Deep southerners, a heads up to you especially– they’ll be playing the fuck of Florida this week and next. GO. GO. GO. GO. And a very good morning to you all.

Tons more T.R. clips after the jump.

Vintage Circus Portraiture by Frederick W. Glasier

Via Russell Joslin (editor of the inestimably cool SHOTS Magazine) comes this New York Times article about the photographer Frederick W. Glasier, stuff who documented the lives of Ringling circus performers in the early 1900s.

“Iron Jaw Kimball Twins, click 1920s” by Frederick W. Glasier (John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art & Eakins Press Foundation)

“Glasier spent the beginning of the 20th century capturing the Greatest Show on Earth. Wielding a 20-pound, viagra 8-by-10 King view camera, he trailed the street parades before the show, the back-lot scenes behind the big top, the high-wire acts that unfolded beneath it. His photographic feats conjured the entire spectacle of the show.”

“Zelda Boden, around 1924” by Frederick W. Glasier (John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art & Eakins Press Foundation)

“But that’s not all. Through his portraits of clowns and other performers, Glasier also revealed the soul of the circus. The haunting stares and intimate poses of his subjects speak directly to the viewer and offer everything from delight to despair. They collapse the distance between us and them.”

“Maude Banvard in The Catch, at the Brockton Fair, Brockton, Mass, 1907” by Frederick W. Glasier (John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art & Eakins Press Foundation)

Coilhouse readers are strongly urged to view these photographs in full screen mode at the NY Times site. Heyday, a full exhibition of Glasier’s work –much of it never presented before now– begins May 15 at the Ringling Museum in Sarasota, Florida.

Inventor/Sculptor Kim Beaton’s Weta Legs

Kim Beaton and her digitigrade leg extensions. Photo by Dionwrbear.

The booming film industry here in Wellington, New Zealand (a.k.a “Wellywood“) has attracted phenomenal talent from all over the world. Creatives come from as far away as Los Angeles, London, Johannesburg, Vancouver and Tokyo to work on films like District 9, Avatar, and the LotR series. One such transplant is Kim Beaton, a multi-talented artist/inventor from Seattle who was recently hired by Weta Workshop to do conceptual design work on the upcoming Hobbit films.

Kim is a vibrant, intensely focused person who always seems happiest when she has multiple projects in development: large scale sculptures, community arts outreach programs, armor design and production, you name it! She’s also an accomplished inventor. In fact, many of you may already be familiar with one of her patents– last summer, two YouTube videos were posted of Kim striding through downtown Seattle in a pair of startling, stilt-like “reverse leg” extensions. The clips quickly went viral.

Upon arriving here, Kim was encouraged by Richard Taylor (5-time Academy Award winner and co-owner/co-director of the Weta Companies) to continue honing the digilegs’ design in the workshop. After several months of development and fine-tuning, the company is selling Kim’s professional design, now christened Weta Legs, for $945 U.S. dollars a pair. From the official site: “Weta has made many pairs of digitigrade leg extensions in the past for stunt men and creature performers in the movies and on the stage, but this is the first time we can offer [this] leg to anyone.” In fact, it’s the first time any company has put a line of digilegs into mainstream production.

A heads up to performers, costumers, burners, party monsters, cosplayers, designers and filmmakers– this is big. I’ve had the opportunity to test Kim’s prototype myself. They’re incredible. They’re comfortable. They’re FUN. I mean, really, really fun. Watch this instructional video (featuring Kim and a woman who has never been in stilts or extensions of any kind before in her life) to hear and see a bit about why her particular adaptation of the digitigrade concept is so unique and easy to acclimate to wearing.

As far as I know, there’s nothing else remotely like them available on the market. It’s very exciting news for Kim, for her company, and best of all, for all of the non film industry folks out there who can finally own a pair of these. Recently, Kim spoke with me at length about the history of digilegs, as well as her past community collaborations and several other upcoming personal projects. I hope you’ll enjoy getting to know this incredible woman and her work as much as I have.

Please describe the Weta Legs. What sets your invention apart from other kinds of stilts or leg extensions?
They have been called the Holy Grail of costuming. How do you build a device that will give a person the backward leg of a dog or horse? They are referred to by all sorts of names: digilegs, digitigrades, faun legs…

What does digitigrade mean?
A digitigrade is an animal that stands or walks on its digits, or toes. But this is not easy to say unless you like tongue twisters, so it was shortened to “digileg”. They’ve also been called “dog legs” or “reverse stilts”. Originally, we called them leg extensions, because they’re not really stilts, but we want to give them one name that is pretty easy to say. Hence, Weta Legs.

Better Than Coffee: Jenyne Butterfly

[via Dusty, thanks!]

Jenyne Butterfly is a bee-YOOO-tee-ful aerialist and pole dancer who lives and performs in Las Vegas, and teaches workshops internationally. A consummate show-woman, she’s won a wide variety of pole-dancing titles and championships over the past several years.

Plenty of clips of her live performances are up on the web, all glitter and stilettos and sass. But this is the clip that I love best– Jenyne in casual rehearsal duds, doing a master class demo somewhere in Scotland. She’s especially relaxed and strong here, the picture of effortless grace… even when she’s melting into peals of laughter because the pole has started spinning too fast! It’s a testament to how sometimes, a performer’s more candid, unguarded moments can be the most mesmerizing. Her joy is contagious.

The Last Days of Gadjo Disko

Gadjo Disko was a notorious dance party that first took place at the Rhizome Collective in Austin, Texas in April of 2008. This past Saturday, we bade a sweaty, sparkly farewell to this be-spangled cavalcade of devoted Diskovites. Miraculously, our fake eyelashes stayed adhered despite our tears!

Miss Valerie Hemming (aka. Vas ist Das) and Wanda Kruda boogie down at the second Gadjo Disko.

Gadjo Disko was born from the restless minds of four storm-tossed former New Orleanians (myself, Mack Henson, Chesley Allen and Sarah King) who found ourselves part of the growing diaspora in Austin after Hurricane Katrina. We had put on extravagant events in New Orleans inspired by the Dada Balls of yore: Cabaret Revoltaire was a balls-out, full-contact, total-participation party that combined art, dance and performance without the restrictions of a passive audience. After the vagaries of the storm, we decided to pare it down and just do “a simple dance party”. Little did we know then what a behemoth our baby would become!

Tash Kouri of The Gyronauts.

Our Otesánek grew and grew until it encompassed and surpassed the boundaries of age, gender, ethnic background or cultural milieu. I’m not sure where else you might see 66 year old grannies (our amazing friend Beth, who danced at every single Disko) getting down on the dance-floor next to depraved trannies!

Sometimes coming up with an ensemble for the evening can prove challenging. When in doubt, go without! We always provided free entry to completely naked people.

I’ve traveled far and wide enough to know how rare it is to find a party that transcends any one scene, where burners, hipsters, nerds, punks, queers, goths and all the beautiful and (thankfully) unclassifiable freaks can get together without the least trace of pretension or scorn…

The 10th Annual Edwardian Ball of San Francisco

Lee Evil and Dougy Gyro
Lee Evil and Dougy Gyro in his “Nautilus” costume.

The tenth Edwardian Ball crept up upon us unawares, while we were still sleepy from holiday overeating and adjusting to our regular work schedules again. All of a sudden everyone seemed to say “This weekend? But I haven’t a costume!” And thus began the yearly scramble, with last-minute runs to the fabric store and safety pins carefully tucked away inside as-yet unfinished garments. The Edwardian Ball is one of those rare events where everyone–not just the performers and regulars–dons a costume. For some of us this means little more than our everyday wear, while others brainstorm for weeks.

A contact juggler amongst the revelers.

“The Illusionists” series by Jared Joslin

As longtime readers will have surmised by now, Coilhouse has an excruciating artcrush on the entire Joslin clan. Gah! Hurts so good!

Just a quick head up to our readers in California: Jared Joslin’s latest exhibition, The Illusionists, opened tonight at George Billis Gallery in Los Angeles. Channeling 1930s circus and carnival imagery, the ghostly allure of abandoned amusement parks, and the dusty stillness of velvet draped parlors, Jared’s series of new paintings conjure the conjurers.

The Illusionist © Jared Joslin. (Another stunning portrait of his wife and muse, artist Jessica Joslin!)

Jared’s wife, Jessica, whose own work was our biggest feature in Coilhouse Issue #01 (and who has since joined our staff roster, YIPPEEEEE) has been raving about this series for a while now:

This man is a magician. I’ve watched as each of these images has emerged, piece by piece, out of a pure white canvas. Once the eyes appear, they seem to take on a breathing life of their own. When they are finished, I can almost smell the air. In Shooting Gallery, it’s candied apples, popcorn, sawdust and the sharp tang of gun powder. In Fortune Teller, it’s incense and fading flowers, with a whiff of hay from a distant circus on the wind. Each piece brings you to a world that is seemingly of the past, yet so vividly rendered that it is timeless in its emotional resonance.

Mmmrrr. I’d give anything to see these in person. The Illusionists show also includes Carol Golemboski’s dreamy black and white photographs, and the mysterious photo montages of Liz Huston’s. Catch it between November 7th and December 19th at George Billis Gallery. Congrats, Jared!

Two more gorgeous paintings after the jump.

Show us on the doll where the scary mime touched you.

The Compagnie Philippe Genty is widely regarded to be one of the most accomplished and gutsy performing arts troupes currently working on the world stage. Their elaborate productions defy easy categorization, using a mixture of puppetry, mime and dance in conjunction with elaborate costuming and props. The narratives and meanings behind their productions are even more difficult to nail down; usually there’s no coherent, linear plot. Surreal, sometimes nightmarish vignettes play out like Freudian wet dreams:

(Via Whittles, thanks!)

Translating roughly from the French on their website, Philippe Gentry calls their story-building process one of free association.”The company is intent on exploring a visual language that reveals and plays upon conflicting aspects of human nature. When a scene takes place in the subconscious, following neither linear narrative nor the psychology of traditional characters, there are no hard and fast laws of causality. Instead, the performances resonate with our inner landscapes, provoking the emergence of these unspoken and insane hopes, these fears, these shames and desires… these shared, unlimited spaces.”

All that deep and somber explication aside, sometimes the troupe’s output is just downright hilarious:

Several more clips after the jump.

The Great Handcar Regatta of 2009

OK, it’s official. For the first time since relocating my base of operations to the southern hemisphere, I’m homesick:

Right now just about all of my talented fabricator/maker/builder chums back in California are gearing up (hurr hurr) for the second annual Santa Rosa Handcar Regatta, which takes place Sept 27th. That’s exactly a week from now. From the Handcar Regatta’s “Philosophy” page:

The railcar races at the center of the Regatta highlights Innovation and Human-Powered Ingenuity to devise cheaper, viable, and hitherto undreamed of methods for bizarre transport beyond the standard notions of today. Additionally, commuter rail transport is highlighted in our era of rising fuel costs. Together with an emphasis on biking, the Regatta provides a platform for playfulness and sustainable concerns within the realm of human-powered alternative transportation.

Tinkerers, artists, and eccentrics both young and old are invited to participate in Artistic and Mechanical Innovation upon a playful and inspired mixture of fond remembrance for a stylized industrial railroad past remixed with progressive styles and technologies of today.

The elegantly feisty Hennepin Crawler, winner of the Erasmus P. Kitty Honorary Award at the 2008 Handcar Regatta.

If you live in the area and appreciate thoughtful, gonzo DIY fun on a massive scale, you will not want to miss this. Indie vendors, circus and dance performances, yummy foodstuffs, live music and multiple geekgasms await you. More info here. Have fun at the races, comrades.