Access talked to the founder of Squidsoup Anthony Rowe about his recent collaboration with electronic band Four Tet, which involved innovative uses of LED technology
How did your work with Four Tet come about?
We met Kieran Hebden/Four Tet through a mutual friend. We had been touring an immersive installation called Submergence that uses a 3D array of individually controlled LEDs to suggest movement and presence in physical space. It was shown in art galleries, pop-up events, indoors and outdoors, but we wanted to explore other uses for the idea. Kieran was looking for a light show for his latest album (Morning/Evening, 2015), a meandering Indian music-inspired work, and the fit seemed good.
What was the brief and who’s idea was it?
The brief was totally open – it was to be a collaboration relying on serendipity and experimentation and we’d see where it led. The only rule was that whatever we did needed to be flexible and loose enough to allow him to improvise at will. The earlier gigs (Manchester International Festival, the Roundhouse, Sydney Opera House) were conventional stage setups, but at the ICA Kieran was in the round, in the middle of the light array, and with the audience around him. This was more in keeping with our approach and background in installation art, but also worked well for Kieran I think, as it got him nearer the audience, breaking down boundaries between audience and performer, as well as performance and installation, virtual and physical space.
What were the challenges?
At Alexandra Palace, there were software challenges to get the system to run fast enough to cope with a large array of lights recreating a real time particle system in 3D space. And hardware challenges too: the LED strands were dangling among the 10,000 audience – anyone could yank a string and break it. We needed to be able to cope with that without it causing major failures. And then practicalities – installing a large and unusual system in the round in a venue that is set up for a traditional stage setup caused a few unanticipated issues.
What technology and creativity is involved?
The hardware is a DMX variant running a 3D array of individually addressable LEDs. The array consisted of around 40,000 points of light, 240 DMX universes, 120 power supplies and a ton of other kit to create a 30m x 30m x 5m high volume of light. The software is a bespoke system we developed over the past 10-12 years consisting mainly of a particle system running in a volumetric virtual space that is then mapped onto the LEDs. All the visuals were triggered and rendered in real time.
What sorts of other projects are you involved in?
Our main work is creating immersive installations. This is where this project came from, and where most of our other work sits. Beyond Submergence, we have a piece called ‘Wave’ that consists of over 500 individual orbs, each with its own speaker as well as LEDs, processor, sensors and wifi connectivity. This creates a quite unique soundscape as well as lightscape as immersive experience. We showed it at Salisbury Cathedral recently, and are touring a variant of it at Burning Man (Nevada desert) this Summer, then on to an event in Scottsdale Arizona, where we will also have another related work up called ‘Murmuration’.
Four Tet: http://www.fourtet.net
Project page: http://www.squidsoup.org/fourtet
Submergence project page: http://www.squidsoup.org/submergence/
Wave project page: http://www.squidsoup.org/wave/