The fourth chapter of The Jejune Institute’s saga, “The Lost Mixtape” was an adventure that took place with a group of strangers in the Chapel of the Chimes in Oakland. Eva Lucien, the hero of the story, guided participants through a tape on a golden boombox.
You can read more about it on producer Uriah Findley’s website here, see a brief participant’s video of some of the action here, or if you’re really curious, check out the pseudo-documentary film The Institute for a more comprehensive look at the entire story.
As a participant, after completing this fourth chapter our group was asked to work together to create a mixtape and a write up describing what happened. In my group I was tasked with writing duties, others handled the mixtape. This material was all shared freely among all the groups who completed the chapter on a website. Sadly, that website no longer exists.
I’ve barely thought of this recently — until today. This morning my web host sent me an email notifying me that they’d upgraded one of my sites that I’d long ago taken offline and forgotten about. Curious, I FTP’d into the virtual server and found a single file called “our_story.txt.” I’d like to share that file openly today. I’ve removed all names (aside from my own) to protect everyone’s identity and corrected a couple grammar mistakes.
Attempting to describe everything Nonchalance, the studio behind The Jejune Institute, has put me through over the years generally makes me sound like a raving lunatic. (See also this and this.) So don’t expect anything different here. But first I should include a bit of context so my write up makes at least some degree of sense.
- The Chapel of the Chimes is a beautiful columbarium in Oakland, designed in part by Julia Morgan. It’s often used for various concerts and art events.
- “Eva” is the hero of the overall story, a young woman who disappeared to a mysterious other world known only as Elsewhere.
- “Eva’s Fairy Tree” is a specific tree in the median of Dolores Street, first mentioned in the second chapter.
- “Hobo Glyphs” is likely a reference to Nonchalance’s logo, which is basically a hole with rabbit ears (a rabbit hole… get it?)
- The people following us with cameras were probably taking footage to be used in the film The Institute. From what I can recall, they mostly stayed out of our way.
- “Terrance” was a fictional character, a member of Eva’s crew, aka The Savants.
- “Octavio” refers to Octavio Coleman, Esquire, founder and head of The Jejune Institute.
Without further ado, here’s the story as I wrote it down at the time:
THE STORY OF THE MARBLE CAKE EIGHT
None of us were total strangers. I mean, not all of us had met in person before that Saturday morning in Oakland, but we’d exchanged e-mails. It goes further than that… on one hand we were mostly strangers to one another and yet on the other hand, hadn’t we all shared unusually similar experiences? Cult inductions, protests, radio shows, even dance moves.
For the first time, we found ourselves together, confronted with a task we had to work together and trust one another to solve. Completing this mission individually would not be possible.
It all started one day when a mysterious woman called us from a number in Southern California, giving each three unique mantras, a cardinal or intercardinal direction, and a date. Postcards followed with more clues.
From there we didn’t know exactly what to expect, or when we would find out more. It was a waiting game.
One Wednesday evening, Mr. Eric Sir received a text message informing him to arrive at Eva’s Fairy Tree at exactly 8 PM. He found a note on the tree: “LOOK RIGHT.”
He turned right and walked over to the curb, where a mysterious woman was standing.
“Is this right?” he asked.
She pressed him for his intentions, and slowly began to trust him. Then she brought out a strange plastic instrument.
“I’m going to play a song. A blues song. You need to make up a song, a lyric, that makes you feel blue.”
After some hesitation, Eric arrived at some lyrics. The mystery woman put the instrument away and pulled out an envelope that said “Mr. Eric Sir.”
The envelope contained a secret e-mail address that connected him to a group of eight people, along with a meeting location. The game was underway.
On Saturday, March 13th, the eight of us met up on a residential street in Oakland. We were [NAMES REDACTED].
[NAME REDACTED] flipped on his camcorder and we got to work.
We discovered the postcards contained clues that led us down a path. Along the way, Hobo Glyphs seemed to direct us somewhere. But where?
At the end of the path, after some confusion, our postcards indicated we were to enter a mortuary. From there we arranged ourselves in a circle and recited our mantras, one by one, in a circle.
The Chapel of the Chimes mortuary is a beautiful place, calm and serene, yet elegant and almost maze-like. It would be easy to get lost.
From our mantras, we deciphered a path up a staircase and through a door. There we entered a small room with an 80’s boom box that had been painted gold and patterned with floral adhesives.
We hit play. The hiss of the tape started, echoing slightly in the stone room. A voice we all knew to be Eva’s came from the boom box.
“You always knew you’d find me here,” she said, ominously. We didn’t know what to expect.
Eva’s voice instructed us to find a vase, which we discovered high up the wall. A metal implement removed the vase from the wall. It was filled — to almost everyone’s horror — with blindfolds. Several of us let out nervous laughs.
North, West, South, and East were instructed to take a mask; and to put the mask on the other person. We were told to take the boom box while the cardinal folks walked slowly, following Eva’s instructions, and with the hands of the intercardinal folks on the shoulders of their sighted companions.
Surprisingly, this walk went without many issues. Even the stairs proved of little trouble. We arrived in a garden, where Eva let us relax for a few minutes without the blindfolds on.
Soon the inevitable happened; Eva asked partners switch to tasks. Blindfolds were exchanged, and we got back to our game of follow-the-leader.
Another break in a garden and masks were removed. We decided to pause the tape for a bit and explore, taking photos and admiring the gardens, statues, and curiously-themed urns.
But not for long. We got back to the tape and quickly learned there was another “gift” for us in another vase. Surprisingly, we found four more blindfolds. But for what? We couldn’t all be blindfolded, could we?
Yes, we could.
Arranged in order of height, we faced the back wall of the room and put our blindfolds on. “Turn to the right,” Eva’s voice instructed (a task not everyone was able to follow) and put your hands on the person in front of you.
[NAME REDACTED], the shortest of the group, was in the front of the line. Should he start walking? He continued holding his camcorder and waiting for further instructions.
But instead of instructions, his camcorder hand was pushed down by a mysterious woman, who then grabbed him and started taking us around. Those of us behind him and no idea what was happening. We hoped that someone was in front of us, or we might end up in a big pile somewhere.
A few blind yards later, we ended up in another indoor garden. The tape eventually instructed us to remove our masks. We did so, and discussed briefly what had transpired.
Tape back on, we were directed into a small room by Eva’s voice. After a cheesy sort of guided meditation that resulted in, well, laughter, we were told to discard the boom box in this room along with the blindfolds.
She offered us one final direction, which was to enter another small room two doors away. [NAME REDACTED] found a flower inside a “vase” which turned out to be a map. The map directed us to another small room.
The final room we visited contained a short letter from Terrance, a full-color copy of Eva’s diary, and a golden mixtape.
We were instructed by Terrance to name our group, to record our own mixtape and write down our story (which you’re reading now.)
Before we left, we had some immediate questions;
1. Who was the woman who pulled [NAME REDACTED] around? He consulted his camcorder. Only a brief moment of footage of her exists on the camera. It seemed possible that she was the same mysterious figure who met with Eric prior to the event.
But still: who was she?
2. Many of us sensed that we were being followed. One man walked by several times with a camera. Was he taking pictures of us for some reason? Perhaps he was affiliated with Terrance? We had no answers.
After a lunch of some delicious sushi, we deliberated our group’s name before calling it a day. Some ideas were tossed around. [NAME REDACTED] suggested “Marble Cake Eight”, a reference to a Time.com poll influenced by the clever hackers at 4chan. This name stuck (despite some protests.)
Perhaps there’s another way of looking at this. Our mission brought together eight of us. Could we be… a family? A recondite family? Was the exercise with masks a trust-building exercise? Does that mean we experienced an expansion of “inter-personal trust”? Could it be that Octavio’s plan for us is coming true? What does this even mean?
Maybe it was a coincidence but my questions in the epilogue section turned out to be right on. At the controversial ending of the story, the Socio-Reengineering Seminar in 2011, it was revealed that although we thought we were rebelling against The Jejune Institute, in fact we’d been playing into their hands the entire time. And in fact, we were building a “recondite family” through shared experiences and trust building exercises.
Discovering this text file on a long forgotten website that’s no longer online was a real blast from the past, and I’m glad I happened to come across it. The events described here occurred well over five years ago. While it was an unforgettable experience overall — easily one of my favorite parts of The Jejune Institute — I have to admit I had forgotten many of the smaller details over the years.
So I’m publishing this blog post not only as a reminder for forgetful folks such as myself who went through this chapter of the Jejune saga, but also for like minded folks who are interested in situational and immersive design. Nonchalance clearly put a large amount of work into this wonderful production, and I’d hate for many of these details to be lost to time.