Last week we told you how excited we are to be working with Yeasayer on their prismatic new tour environment, which will prove to be much more than just another glitzy live show. We paired the band with renown software artist Casey Reas, who conceived sculptural elements for the stage that utilize elements of reflection and refraction to produce an immersive, multi-layered experience that will subsume audiences in color and light.
Architecture and design firm Aranda\Lasch developed the crystalline mirrored “canvases” (fabricated by Asteriskos) where Yoshi Sodeoka‘s music videos and custom-designed visuals from Reas and Aaron Meyers will stream throughout the band’s performance. Meyers has also developed software that will let the band control the visuals on stage in real-time, along with a motion capture app that will distort the band members’ faces as they play.
Yeasayer debuted a small portion of their spiffy new tour environment on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon last night, giving fans a sneak peek of their stage setup in advance of taking it out on tour this fall. The band’s third album, Fragrant World is out today on Secretly Canadian, though you can still stream the album in full over at NPR.
We’ll be documenting the creative process behind this epic meeting of the minds with a series of videos. First up, Yeasayer frontman Chris Keating discusses his creative vision for the stage design. After watching last night’s performance, we spoke with Reas about the portal-like structure he envisioned, what the collaboration was like, and why this particular project is nothing like anything else he’s worked on before.
The Creators Project: This project is a bit of a departure from your previous work. What’s new and different about it? How did it push you outside your comfort zone?
Casey Reas:This project brings together components that I’ve pursued over the last decade into one project and pushes them further. The most important thing about this work is the collaboration. I think everyone is doing their best work and it’s combined in a way where it synthesizes into an environment beyond the individual components. It was my primary charge to develop the original vision for the environment and then to communicate and clarify this vision throughout the development. I had a great early conversation with Chris Keating where a wide range of potential ideas condensed into the clear vision we pursued—we were synchronized.
We have a diverse set of aesthetic elements: Yeasayer’s Fragrant World music; Aranda\Lasch’s intricate sculptures; Yoshi Sodeoka’s exquisite videos (one for each track on the album); Aaron Meyers’ computer vision performance system; my custom video synthesizer created specifically for Aranda\Lasch’s objects; a light setup designed and performed by Jay Chiari; and Nick Gould is performing the projected media authored by myself, Aaron, and Yoshi, and we’re collaborating with him on the choreography.
What, if anything, did you discover about yourself and your own creative practice while working on this project?
Outside of my massive collaboration with Ben Fry et al. (Processing) and my love of collaborative writing, I typically produce my work alone in my studio. I tune every element personally with obsessive detail. The Fragrant World tour environment required a radically different way of working—my participation remained more conceptual and interpersonal.
I was a drummer in bands for over fifteen years, but I stopped making music over a decade ago to focus entirely on my images. The rehearsal sessions for this project reminded me how much I love working intimately with sound. I’m not going to pick up my drum sticks in front of an audience again, but I’m sure this experience will lead to more experimentation…
What do you think makes for a captivating and enthralling live music experience? How did you attempt to achieve that in your designs?
For the Fragrant World tour, the priority is to carefully choreograph the entire arc of the live show and to tightly link the audio and visual experience. I think of the tour environment as a flexible platform for constructing a live experience, rather than a predetermined sequence of events. All good live shows emerge through the experience of performing and we’ve constructed a highly modular set of pieces that can be modified from performance to performance and during each show. Yeasayer is touring with two dedicated visual performers, Nick and Jay, who will highly synchronize the visual media to the specific performance each night.
A strong priority of this show was to make a complete environment for Yeasayer to play within. I’m a strong critic of shows that obscure the human performance and replace it with a barrage of graphics. I also wanted to work against the trend of playing in front of a 2D screen or LED curtain. We built our environment so that it’s in front of, among, and behind the band, and we want a strong integration with the music, media, architecture, and band.
The tour environment you’ve created is very high concept and has some very sophisticated details and touches. What do you hope the audience takes away from it?
The concept for this show was honed over a period of months and I feel that it’s tight. I hope the audience will have an extraordinary audio/visual experience.
There are two perspectives on the basic idea of the stage. First, I invented an ambiguous narrative for the performance, something about being either (space)shipwrecked or at a research outpost. The instruments become communication signals, either as beacons or broadcasting streams of data. More concretely, the sculptures originated from the properties of crystals. On one hand, crystals have a mystical component, which I feel works well with Yeasayer. On the other hand, crystals relate intimately to sound and technology, which also clearly relates to the band and their music. When current is applied to a crystal, it vibrates precisely. The core of each computer is an oscillator created by a crystal that clocks each computation. So, starting with the cultural and technical properties of crystals, the idea extended to creating a full environment that reacts and responds to sonic vibrations.
As realized by Aranda\Lasch, the physical stage objects are one instance of a larger parametric data space. Through projecting light back onto the objects, more potential spaces and objects are revealed. We’re excited about what will happen with light on stage with all of those mirrors. We want to fracture the live performance—to see fragments of Chris, Anand, and Ira reflected off the surfaces—and we want to bounce light around the entire venue.
As an artist, what are the most important considerations for you when taking on a project of this kind?
I was hesitant to do the work at first. I’ve created visuals for Steve Reich’s music before and have worked with orchestras, and I’m excited to do more of that, but I’d never considered a more integrated stage design for a rock show. Simply put, I share a strong affinity to the sonic and visual world that Yeasayer has constructed over their three albums and I think it’s a perfect fit. I’m always interested in projects that pull me outside of what I know and I always want to collaborate with extraordinary folks.
All photos by Bryan Derballa.