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art, research, play and immersive experience

3D stage lighting design

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The Ocean of Light project, whose aim is to explore the creative potential of large 3D arrays of controllable LEDs, has in the past mainly focused on art gallery and public spaces as venues for experimentation. We have recently had some opportunities to play in a new setting, however, as we have been working with some wonderful and adventurous musicians on lighting for live stage performance. It’s been a thrilling ride. It has provided us with a very different set of opportunities and constraints, pushed us into developing new visual ideas, and also resulted in a set of software tools that we hope will be useful in future work. Untitled
Setup for Four Tet, Manchester International festival (July 2015)

DSC02370Purity Ring, World tour 2015

The tool is very much a work-in-progress; the sections that have been built have been designed for the specific requirements of the two performers we have worked with. However, they work in very different ways – one band triggers lighting behaviours themselves, with the other we are controlling the lighting in real time using a set of interfaces we built for the purpose.

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Ocean of Light control interface. Four Tet, MIF, Manchester.

The process has presented many dilemmas, to do with being forced to select and rationalise a coherent approach from an eight year library of experiments (in at least three different development platforms). There is plenty more to do, but this is at least a start.

Stage lighting control is not a new industry, but we are new to it. It certainly feels like we are the new kids on the block, unaware of the terminology, techniques and protocols in place. People and colleagues have been very interested in what we are doing, and happy to offer general advice and act as fallback, covering such details as actually, err, lighting the performer…

Lighting design has come on a long way recently, to the point where the gobos and lights used in large numbers today can be coordinated, with beam shape and multiple hues from a single source choreographed in real time. Combined with haze, these do create volumetric experiences; cones or lines that scan the space, defining volumes that stretch far beyond the confines of the stage. But from an outsider’s perspective they are still limited in what they can do – essentially a series of cones emanating from fixed points.

We were never-the-less technologically outgunned. These people have very powerful state-of-the-art LEDs as standard, whereas our LEDs are cheap, they are rated at 0.6W each and they are omni-directional. The only thing we have going in our favour is quantity. A pro lighting rig will currently have maybe 40 or so lights to control – we have 5,000 or more.

And used together, those thousands of suspended LEDs are capable of producing 3D form and movement in physical space – which is the whole point of the exercise.

At the most recent gig with Four Tet (at the ICA, London) the performance was in-the-round. The ICA is an intimate setting, with a small audience, and the aim here was to blur the boundaries between stage/performer and audience. Four Tet was on a low stage in the middle of the lights, and the audience was also allowed within the lights – to within reach of the performer.

ica039Four Tet, ICA. 25 August 2015. Photo Future Sun

We are now looking for opportunities to blur more boundaries. One that we have in mind is the boundary between performance and installation. These projects began as responsive installation pieces, and are moving into performance. There is no reason the two can’t be combined, either simply as having the space act as a responsive installation at times, and a performance space at others… but the possibility of creating a true, and new, dialogue between audience and performance is beginning to emerge…

ica023Four Tet, ICA. 25 August 2015. Photo Future Sun

Currently, Purity Ring are touring with the system in the US, Australia and Europe. We will be performing with Four Tet again at the Roundhouse (London, UK), in February 2016. Working with both musicians has been a pleasure, an honour and a great source of inspiration – and we look forward to further collaborations with them.

 

Purity Ring: www.purityringthing.com/

Four Tet: www.fourtet.net

 

 

 

Category: 3D light, events, interfaces, Ocean of Light

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