Off-Grid Van Music

In large part thanks to my parents, I have spent the majority of my time being creative in close physical proximity to nature. The house I grew up in guarded a good many acres of ridge which met up with the local natural park and I spent as much time in the trees as I did looking at them. It took moving into the city for me to realize how heavily connected my inspiration is to my physical environment.

One of my largest influences in music has been the Jewelled Antler Collective and more specifically, Loren Chasse and Glenn Donaldson’s “The Blithe Sons”. All of their albums are recorded on-location, outside and stir a transcendental mood in me I rarely feel from other records.

In that spirit, but not wanting to yet commit to land purchase, I’ve had a goal to find some way to facilitate my electronic-music live sampling improvisational activities outside, wherever I could find a good view (and decent auditory isolation). While I was on a motorcycle trip from Portland to San Diego for a wedding, I got laid off from my fancy enterprise platform-engineer position. So I went cliche and bought a van.

Well, really a truck–a '92 Ford E350 extended 7.3L diesel

Then a utility cart, some battery boxes, two-ought welding cable, compatible lugs, fuses, a three-bank marine battery charger, pure-sine inverter, deep-cycle marine batteries, and assembled a 12v 315Ah (amp hour) battery bank in an afternoon

Testing cable lengths

Initial charging

Loading everything up into the van on a rainy evening and headed out to the coast

Rainy camping, water for morning coffee’s ready :slight_smile:

Found somewhere pretty and next to the water, continued to spend approximately 20-30min reconfiguring the physical van space for music

Continued to shred for a couple hours

My North view

My South view

I checked the SOC (state of charge) on the battery bank after two-three hours of music playing and four-five hours of late night hacking, reading 12.786 which is still about 100%.

And now you know what I will be doing every chance that I can get :smile:

If anyone has any questions about specific items that I used or anything else, I’m super happy to answer them. This 12v 315Ah battery bank ended up being a little over $1000 when complete, compare to Goal Zero’s 100Ah Yeti 1250 at $1249.

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wow, you fit a rhodes in there? so amazing.

@shellfritsch and i have been discussing a similar mobile performance vehicle. your implementation is super elegant. would’ve loved to have seen this (and hang out more) when we were in pdx! again soon. keep posting rad photos.

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jawdropping

not sure where to begin but willing to hear more about your experiences

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So cool! Reminds me of my London busking days - we’d form guitar/bass/drum trios every non-rainy day one summer jamming extended instrumental cover songs around central London. I’d help a lot with everyone’s basic mobile battery setups but this is next-level - guessing you must have a load of extra padlocks on the vehicle with all that gear inside?

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what?!

amazing.

thanks for sharing all the details of your build-out. as @tehn mentioned, a van as mobile sound lab + venue is something i’m super keen to realize and we’ve started to brainstorm ways for this to take form. i have the van:

thinking about putting a high-top on it…

please keep sharing media from your adventures!

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Wow wow. So beautiful! I have to be better about opening my eyes and exploring our incredible proximity.

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That’s wonderful and very inspiring.

How are you charging the battery bank at the moment? Mains? From the van?
Any plans for solar or something like that?

Do you think the environment you are creating in affects how the music turns out?

Sorry - lots of questions!

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Thank you!, I had to give up the sustain pedal as the piano is lying on a rearranged benchseat, took it off the rail and now it’s facing backwards against the driver and passenger seats. This 1992 Ford is weird, it’s like some special order not-quite Club Wagon with a 30 gallon gas tank.

We’ll meet again soon, will keep you up-to-date on exploring these new possibilities!

Thanks :slight_smile: There were actually two days where I went out to scout locations and attempt to record some music. It was raining pretty heavy and there were high winds which was a challenge, had to access the side-door quickly and anything exposed was covered with a tarp and tied down. And then reconfiguring space in the van is a bear, lots of back-bending and tetris. But being able to make music and be productive in an outside environment is more than worth it.

Also I think it helps that I’m not incredibly familiar with this area, moved here over two years ago and exploring still feels like an adventure. That adds to the sense of discovery when I’m intuitively choosing a direction to drive in.

That sounds amazing. Wish my friends and I had access to those kinds of resources. No padlocks! Just moving stuff around so that I have enough space to sleep. I’m no stranger to camping in the snow or rain, but it’s kind of nice being able to run the heater when I feel the shivers. :slight_smile:

Amazing van! Is that some kind of mobile stage tied to the top??
I’ve definitely caught the adventure-van bug. For some reason this early 90’s van has captivated me and I think I’ll be holding onto it for a while… maybe even going 4x4.
Musicians with mobile sound lab/venues!! I’m imagining a remote wilderness rendezvous point and caravan of artists!
Will keep this thread alive. I hope others feel free to update too.

Thanks Drewsky! We’ll have to get out somewhere that’s not rained or snowed out this winter and build some jams. Will get at you soon.

Thank you sandy!! The battery bank is charged from the mains, I’ve bought a NOCO Genius GENM3 which is a lower amperage 3-bank deep-cycle smart charger which will work on batteries up to 120Ah. I’m using 105Ah Duracell SLI31MDC’s. The lower amperage charger takes longer but should extend battery life.

No plans for solar, Portland is lacking a lot of sun and I can’t spend that much time outside charging the batteries. But honestly I don’t see any problem lasting a week or more with my usage. I’ll try to keep this thread updated as I experience more.

I definitely think playing outside affects my creative workflow and how I channel my intuition. The effect seems greater the longer I spend in the wilderness–I haven’t had too much time to reflect though. I’ve been hosting a friend and having fun this weekend. Let me know if you’re curious about any specifics! There are some subtle actions like making sure all the cables are the same length to avoid voltage drops between batteries in the bank.

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hey Murray,

wondering if you still have the mobile music jam van? still getting out there?
Its been relatively dry so far this year, but when it has been dark and rainy for days it can be nice to go east over the mountains into the sun.
any pieces you could share incorporating field recordings in the spots you’ve been?

Anyone else with a mobile unit like this? or video of outdoor performances?

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Hey!! Funny you mention that, ive had a very weird weekend with a ton of driving but i just picked up a recently repaired and very relevant item from a northern California Ford dealership. I sent this out to my friends today :smile: (whom I suppose now includes anyone reading this):

No music or adventures since this passed March but planning to install a catalytic propane heater (this one: https://www.amazon.com/Camco-57331-Olympian-Wave-3-Catalytic/dp/B000BUV1RK ) and get out in the cold. If you’ve any ideas for destinations do fill me in on those please!

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@murray any updates on the musicmobile??? thinking about doing something similar with this dodge 15-person van I just inherited.

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Just to chime in that I recently (last year actually) installed a solar setup for an off grid trailer we use quite a bit of. Seems like that experience might be relevant to anyone here looking to implement solar in their studio wagon. Feel free to PM.

I’m jealous - usually when we (spouse and two toddlers) get out of town, I have almost no time for music making. Working on a quickly deployable, battery powered mobile setup to make it easier.

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@Jonathan_Riley the van in the photos above had a valve crack this passed November, subsequently died and gone to junkyard heaven.

You’ve got a DAJIBAN! Passenger vans are fantastic, so configurable with seats built-in already. I await some updates here once you’ve had some adventures.

I’ve since found a 4x4 Sprinter cargo van that I’ve loaded my battery array into and looking to do a lot of music making and music tool tinkering this summer now that I have a stable-ish job and my personal life is back to a sort of stasis.

@bradfromraleigh Nice! I’ve thought about solar, but haven’t made the leap since my van is pretty new (February) and modifications will be in planning-stage-limbo for quite a while before I do anything permanent to the vehicle. Will seek your guidance if I decide on something sun-powered… a trailer is an intriguing thought. Good luck on the mobile-setup!

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