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Wednesday 05 December 2012

City scapes

London is a city of famous squares: Bloomsbury, Berkeley, Hoxton. Flat Iron Square is one of the lesser-known squares, located south of the river behind the Menier Chocolate Factory. It has been regenerated of late, with a "piazza" format giving visitors the chance to eat al fresco while the trains rumble to and from London Bridge station in the background.

While the city squares are very much a London institution, perhaps Marcus Lyall might appreciate being labelled as another. Deep-rooted into the city's underground music scene, Lyall gradually moved into multimedia – particularly experimental film-making – as well as directing TV advertisement spots. Bringing all of this together is his work for touring bands, including the Rolling Stones and U2.

All of these facets have now taken the next step through Lyall's work with Deadmau5 and Nokia, to support the brand's programme to launch its Windows Mobile-equipped Lumia 820 handset. Last week, Nokia ran a free event in Flat Iron Square where Deadmau5 performed live to hundreds of fans, supported by a highly orchestrated lightshow from Lyall. It continues an established collaboration between Nokia and Deadmau5, which has previously featured projections onto Millbank Tower.

Lyall's involvement changed the context of the performance. Where the Millbank show was more content-driven, the show in Flat Iron Square was more about engagement between artist and audience. Props and devices were set up around the square and were lit up at specific times: as Lyall puts it, "... it's theatre more than film. It's about getting the light-up wheelie bins to work. We had Panalux, building special window boxes to turn on motorbike headlights. We had people making fruit stands with LED tiles in them. The whole thing was to make it detailed and immersive, so it wasn't just about a grand spectacle; it was as much about being able to stand at the back and something lights up next to you, so there was a sense of everyone having a slightly different experience."

Lyall didn't spend much time finding Flat Iron Square; it was, fortunately, the first place that he found during his location research. An area with a mix of properties, not close to a concentration of residential properties yet close to a mainline train station, there is also a large, open area for people to stand, and there's a cityscape (with the Shard in the background) visible too. The London Borough of Southwark has previously been involved with artists to co-develop civic lighting projects, so there was a pre-existing understanding on the part of the host council to entertain such work.

Once the location was confirmed, it was up to Lyall to develop and orchestrate the project, and to ensure that the production team could deliver his ideas. "It was about me phoning up saying 'this would be nice' - cut to short silence - then ' We'll see what we can do'! The plans had to be approved by Southwark council along with the Police. It was about hiding generators, trucks, forklifts... when you get down to it, it's challenging."

 

Nokia / Deadmau5

 

As Lyall admits, while the piece relied on a heavy dose of technology, that plays a supporting role to what's important: theatre and performance.

"It's very easy to get the technology end of it, but ... it's still about theatre. We wrote custom software and had animators working on breaking songs down, but what the papers picked up on was that we got Deadmau5 to walk along the edge of the building, which ended up being a great shot as you had Deadmau5 looking as if he was about to jump, with the Shard and a full moon in the background. A perfect shot. I think that was the main thing... however much you put into the technology, it's theatre. It's about the old visual gags still working."

From the perspective of audience, Lyall's intention was to bring the audience into a scene where they did not necessarily know what was going to happen (apart from a performance from Deadmau5, of course). The concept was for a "stealth street" where, slowly, different parts of the area would come alive, and would feel like an intervention rather than a straight "broadcast". The artist was equally engaged; focussed and precise yet understanding of the requirements, Deadmau5 saw the project as a way to further strengthen the connection between himself and his fans.

Here's the full performance.

 

Full-length (30") video of the performance. A shorter video (5") which covers the project and performance is here

 

Lyall's next projects include further work with major-label musicians, alongside his individual, experimental works which he hints as being equally engaging but in a different, and more personal way. He is looking at smartphone-controlled works, and is working on the framework in order to build them. Whether it's U2 at Wembley or an individual show in a gallery, It's clear that the unrelenting focus is on building work to provoke an emotional reaction on the part of the participant.

"What's really important is the reaction that something gets. It can be really clever, but if the public don't understand what it is, and they don't get a visceral reaction from it, then what is it that we're trying to do? For me, it isn't about what it is you're doing, it's about how you're making people feel. "

 

Marcus Lyall's website contains further information and videos from his portfolio of work.

Main image: Deadmau5

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