On Wednesday night Flat Iron Square in south London was transformed into an immersive light show with deadmau5 providing accompanying audio. Marcus Lyall, from ML Studio who do tour visuals for the Chemical Brothers, was the creative director behind the project which he described as “like putting on a musical in the street”.
The show took the live music experience and mapped it onto the surfaces and textures that make up a typical street. Every conceivable surface was utilised from windows, trees, street lights, glowing wheelie bins, parked cars and mopeds, even fruit sat outside on a stall. It all became a visual component lighting up in time with the beats. Added to this visual synthesizer was some theatrics, like forklift trucks carrying mirror balls and a mock resident appearing in the window in their dressing gown, shaking their fist at the partygoers and pretending to call the council about the noise.
Lyall says the performance was influenced by immersive theatre group Punchdrunk, where everyone has a different experience depending on where they are. “What impressed me about Punchdrunk is that you had lots of incredibly small details and then this big vision as well”, Lyall told me on the phone. “So it means your experience changes depending on where you are. Some people are gonna get one bit and others are gonna get the fact that the fruit outside the newsagent was lighting up, while others got the grand view from the back. So it creates a very different experience and one of the nice things about that is people afterwards start comparing notes—and although you were there you didn’t see everything.”
Screen shots from the custom app they used to visualise the show—a low-res model of the square, with all props in place.
Their approach was to create the visuals—a mixture of lighting and projection—using animation running all the lighting cues through video. So instead of using lighting programmers they used animators, breaking the songs down into their stems, then animating the lights to the music. They got some custom software written which allowed them to animate everything using MIDI, then created QuickTime movies which is what they used to drive the lights. It was a similar technique to what Lyall used on the Chemical Brothers last tour. The idea was there was no actual video content per se, instead they use projectors as a lighting source so they could mask off different parts of the buildings.