The live show that Jónsi has put together in collaboration with 59 Productions to tour his new album ‘Go’, is a dramatic evolution from the normal rock concert format. Set in the remains of a burnt-out taxidermy shop where animals come to life and take flight into new realms it blends elements of the staging to be found in opera, theatre, film and art installations with the lighting, drama and dynamics of a live gig. This is a unique experience that sets a new benchmark for audiences around the world. Adam Hockley interviewed Mark Grimmer from 59 Productions for Faux Vol 1.3 and now you can read his extended Q&A session here.
Firstly, how did this collaboration come about?
One of Jónsi’s managers came to see an opera production we were working on in London and put us in touch with him. It was lucky timing because we were looking to branch out into a new territory outside theatre and opera and this seemed like the perfect opportunity to bring two worlds together.
Watching the Introductory video for the show on your website has created a sense of excitement and awe which I haven’t experienced either in the theatre, or at a live music event for a long, long time.
How challenging has it been creating and developing this ‘hybrid’ which, to me includes aspects of everything from Theatre production, Live Music Performance, Film, and Art?
Very challenging. Very challenging indeed. The scale of the show is pretty large, and there’s a huge amount of animated and filmed content in it which has obviously taken a long time to develop and refine. The world of rock and roll touring isn’t necessarily conducive to the kinds of techniques employed in theatres. This show had to be designed for the road and so there were huge logistical considerations to bear in mind when trying to apply theatrical production values to a show which has to be pretty robust and very flexible.
How has it compared (technically) to some of your other key theatre projects; War Horse and the Les Miserables Tour being two which spring immediately to mind?
Well (so far) War Horse hasn’t moved (apart from moving to the West End from the National) so you’re in one theatre operating within much clearer parameters and only have to make the show work in one venue which it can happily sit in. Les Mis was designed to tour, and that threw up it’s own logistical challenges, but with both War Horse and Les Mis there was a great deal more rehearsal time than we’ve had with Jónsi and much larger crews to work on the production. Also with this production, we as a company have assumed responsibility for the whole creative team which has been fantastic in terms of being able to assemble an amazingly talented bunch of people to realise the ideas behind the show. The technical set up for Jónsi is much more sophisticated than both Les Mis and War Horse – more projectors, more kit. We also designed the physical set for this show, which wasn’t true of Les Mis and WH.
How different has it been to work from an album, rather than a script?
It’s been fascinating. You couldn’t ask for a more inspiring record than Jónsi’s. It’s been a bit like the reverse of creating a film soundtrack – making a visual soundtrack for his music. There’s not really a narrative to the record so it’s been more about picking out moods and tones and working out how to augment those on stage.
Has Jónsi stepped in at any point in the design process and said ‘woah there guys, I’m not really feeling this..’?
It’s been an ongoing dialogue, and so we’ve not really pushed anything too far without having chatted to him about it first. He’s given us a great deal of creative freedom, but we’ve checked we’re on the same page at regular points along the way.
I’m guessing your projections are more elaborate than my own live visualisation set-up of a MacBook running GarageCube ‘Modul8’ outputting to a three-chip DLP Projectors; I have noticed some ‘Switchable Glass’ in the pieces of set and projectors with a mirror system i’ve not seen before.. Can you tell me more?
Technically this show develops a number of techniques we’ve used on stage in theatres around the world. Yes, there’s some intelligent glass involved which is a switchable LCD projection film which you can turn transparent or opaque depending on the current running through it. We’re using 5 super wide angle Sanyo projectors onstage projecting into old glass cabinets and 4 big Panasonic PT D 10,000 and 12,000 projectors driven by 3 Catalyst media servers. It’s technology we use a lot, but we’ve created a really immersive environment to use it in, as we often try to do. The idea being that it doesn’t ‘feel’ like there’s any technology involved, the look is very organic, and woven into the fabric of the show.
As I was composing these questions Jónsi released part two of your ‘Making Of The Live Show’ series of videos. It shows some of the techniques you used to produce video footage for the show including “fires, floods and unpredictable butterflies”. A few of the Butterflies escaped too, did you lose many? How long did it take before the Butterflies decided to play your game and give you the desired shot?
The butterflies had their own agenda. But we only lost two out of 24 so that’s not bad. They did play ball eventually, but it took a couple of hours!
I work in small productions with companies and venues which don’t have much of a budget so 90% of our ideas are written off almost immediately, Is there anything you really wish you could’ve done with the show if budget was no issue?
Interesting question. Weirdly, the most expensive thing on any show is time. Time with the set in rehearsals, time with the creative team, time to test things out. No amount of money can ever buy you enough of that.
Jonsi’s album, Go, is out now on Parlophone. You can view his upcoming tour dates at his website. For more on 59 Productions, visit their site. You can view the four parts of the “Making Of The Live Show” documentary below.