The Dreamy, Hypnotic, Sound-and-Sight Experience of Purity Ring's Live Music Lightshow
NoFilmSchool is, of course, a site for filmmakers, particularly (but not limited to) those of the DIY variety — but we also foster independent creativity. As independent creatives, we’re able to draw inspiration from virtually any artistic endeavor, including music. To continue this bit of a break from the barrage of recent news in camera tech, I wanted to share something in that musical vein with you guys. For those of you unfamiliar with the electronic-pop duo Purity Ring, they represent a rather refreshing success story regarding internet popularity and the power of new media — not to mention long-distance collaboration. These are all things which we at the forefront of indie content creation can correlate to both what we do as well as the possible future of how we do it. Also of potential interest to us creatives is Purity Ring’s live show. With the help of lighting installation custom-design group Tangible Interaction, the band has crafted a truly special sensory experience to complement — and more fully embody — their unique style of ethereal and euphoric music.
Purity Ring consists of young Canadian musicians Corrin Roddick and Megan James, who had performed (playing drums and piano, respectively) together in the past, and had expressed a mutual desire to form their own project at some point. It took until 2010 for this notion to be realized. After James had moved to Halifax, the Montréal-based Roddick produced an experimental pop-style beat and sent it to James — who then added her vocal performance, which used lyrics based on personal writings she never anticipated widely sharing, never mind singing — and Purity Ring was born. That recording became the band’s first single, self-released initially via Tumblr to an overwhelmingly enthusiastic response. Subsequently released singles (and similar positive reaction) prompted indie record label 4AD to sign the band in — constituting a pretty impressive (and hopefully, encouraging) over-night success.
This video (via Pitchfork Media‘s +1 series) demonstrates several notable things — the band’s sound (full performance begins at 3:43), Roddick’s innovative and self-designed light-up/touch-control rig (discussed at 2:56 and visible throughout), and their live shows’ dynamically-controllable color-changing lighting experience (discussed at 2:43, also visible throughout):
The Creators Project posted a super in-depth breakdown of the lighting rig that highlights the design’s intent to achieve a balance in that all-important duality we constantly face, in that it’s both beautiful and practical. Tangible Interaction said that the inspiration for the lanterns’ interesting shape stems from the band’s own organic fixation (if this isn’t clear to you, just check out some of James’s lyrics).
For ease of transport, the cocoon-like lanterns are made of lightweight and flexible polyurethane foam, which can be quickly collapsed into storage cases. The lanterns themselves are powered by “RGB LED modules [and] controlled using Cortex, a software application developed by Tangible for lighting and kinetic installations” — all designed by the company from the ground up specifically for the band. The cocoons are quick to set up, hung by telescoping fiberglass support poles — again, with a lightweight and small transport footprint — making them another convenience for the band over the course of touring.
As for the flexibility of the system’s lighting control itself, Tangible Interactions had this to say:
It’s really organic to control. You assign all the cocoons and say, OK, I have 20 cocoons and they show up on screen and you decide what you want to control. You click each cocoon and move it in place to match the setup on stage, and everything you touch, it lights up so you know where it is. Let’s say you want all these cocoons to do these flickery effects that are controlled by Megan’s voice — you drag the behavior to the interface and Megan sings and this pattern shows up and the louder she sings the brighter the lights are. It becomes a very creative tool for lighting — you’re not thinking, you’re just experimenting until you find a thing that you like.
The system can also be manipulated based on other factors such as volume level or drum beat, and while behaviors can be programmed beforehand and simply be ‘played back’ for live implementation, the band can also choose to interactively alter the lights’ performance on a whim, “using a MIDI controller hooked up to the computer running Cortex.” Here’s a shot of the Cortex controller and the cocoons at work:
I know things like stage lighting or live work don’t always share specifics with the world of filmmaking — there are some similar core principles, perhaps, but the application often requires slightly different tools. With that in mind, the primary reason I wanted to share this with you guys is because it’s an example of some very innovative and creative people putting their heads to task, and creating a truly original sensory experience. This could mean lighting a scene in a non-traditional way because the scene calls for something kind of out-there, or maybe we stop to consider designing visually-dynamic (or oddly-shaped) practicals to better represent the strangeness (or whatever-ness) of a set or given space. Maybe we just get to watch videos of bands like Purity Ring perform and say to ourselves, “Wow, that’s really cool!” Whatever the case may be, I hope you’ve enjoyed it. Here’s another such video for good measure:
What do you guys think about this lighting rig? Do you feel it helps to complete their stage presence? Am I the only one inspired to somehow do something this interesting in a lighting context in the future?