Lighting states

I established contact with Jonathan James, while he was still planning his accompanying talk on Beethoven’s visionary quartets. I invited him to our initial workshop with the Quartet and involved him in the development process. This enabled us to consider the narrative behind and within the music, and to think through appropriate ways for the visual elements to reinforce it. Jonathan was invaluable in helping us to experiment with the lighting states, as a means of reflecting the different moods within this narrative.

 lighting states

Opus 132 can be seen as offering an allegory for ill health and the battle for recovery, reflecting what was happening to Beethoven at the time of writing it. With the long third movement reflecting his realisation that he was getting better and his praise to God for his recovery, we wanted to allow the audience to focus in on the music with minimal distraction from the visuals. One of our strategies to help achieve this was to experiment with bringing the lighting down at this point in the music to create an intimate ‘candle-lit’ ambience. This I feel was a very effective approach to be taking.

Setting up

The final preparations and run-up to the live performance was all a bit of a scramble and then I went on holiday, so this is being written in retrospect. I will, however, report on events as they unfurled to keep a clear narrative line.

Prom Phantom

It took longer than anticipated to get all four screens working but we got there in the end. We had to hire an additional vision mixer and a signal booster before we could calibrate the projectors. I never want to see an HDMI connector again!



Today’s rehearsal

Another essential day in the Studio, this time with the Quartet. Projectors have been rigged, our screens are up and we’ve cued the lights. We still haven’t got all of our screens working, due to cabling and compatibility issues, but I’m loving the shadows that we’re getting from the spotlights.

proms rehearsal

The projections look great on the drapes and the live layering of closeups onto wider shots of the musicians playing through vision mixers is really effective. We have more rehearsal time tomorrow afternoon to test out the different camera angles. Hopefully the tech issues will be sorted by then.

The audience?

Great news today – our Prom is listed as being sold out! So, three nights at Colston Hall sold out with the Russian Winter and now this. How very pleasing. Musn’t get too used to it though, as I know how hard it can be to get people through the doors and you are only as good as your last show.

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Big mystery now is who is the audience? At last year’s Sacconi Prom, attendees were notably older and more traditional than for the other Proms. Public perception of Quartet playing is that it is old fashioned and stuffy but the Sacconi’s are not at all like that. It is our hope that our cinematic setting with vj-ing will help to attract some younger audience members.

Avoiding lag?

Michael Sides and I saw last year’s ‘from every angle’ Prom with Jan Lisieki. We experienced lag, as we were in the audience at the Watershed watching a live feed from the Old Vic theatre. The general view is that it was the lag or delay that made this experience somewhat unsatisfactory. Whilst this was indeed an issue, as the event was predicated on live relay, I also found the simultaneous overplay of so many multiple screens and camera angles distancing. For me, the visuals were too busy and the camera angles often failed to enhance the intimacy the performance. That said, my favourite part was when we saw a bead of sweat fall of Jan’s nose – as this made me feel more involved with the emotions behind his performance. I was also moved by the juxtaposition of his hands and feet as he was playing.


As documented by

One way around lag is to keep it to a minimum, the other is to play to it through the explicit use of slow motion. Both are valid approaches, the former being more theatrical and the latter more cinematic. Which art form is calling the shots in our project with the Sacconi Quartet? This question needs to be asked. As a multimedia person with a longstanding interest in the power of juxtaposition to reveal new ‘truths’, I favour the latter – or would at least like to try it out. Unfortunately, we are not able to do that because we don’t have the equipment or hire budget to do this with a live feed. No matter – all projects need limitations to push their creativity. I shall save this particular set of ideas for another time….For now, our priority is to keep things simple and to pay close attention to the music in the design of the visual treatment.

i-Docs lab at Digital Bristol Week

The i-Docs Lab is modular workshop where we invite people to expand their understanding of what an interactive documentary is and use a purpose-oriented approach when creating new projects. We presented our first lab in January 2013 at the BBC Broadcast and Beyond day as part of Digital Bristol Week. p01d46zjAs well as speaking at this event, as documented in this video, I also curated the ‘meet the producers of two success stories’ session. I was delighted to be able to invite my former colleague, Max Whitby, Founder and now Director of Special Projects at Touchpress Digital publishers to give a talk alongside Patrick Uden of Uden Media.

Rigging the projectors

Last week’s tech tests revealed that we needed to think carefully about where to position the projectors to maximise the sense of immersion and to prevent ‘keystoning’. This is distortion caused by projecting an image onto a surface at an angle. It will also affect how and where we can hang our drapes. projectors In order to project a portrait as opposed to landscape image, we need to place the projectors on their side. This led to us building stands for the projectors to create a flexible rigging system. As a ‘practice-led academic’ who is constantly moving between analytical and intuitive processes, I’m loving the hands-on practical problem solving.

Testing the tech

Last week, we had a day in the Studio at the Bristol Old Vic with the lighting engineer and camera crew to test out our ideas. We experimented with different ways to hang our projection screens, thought about where to position the projectors, tested out the cameras and experimented with lighting effects. Our general aim is to create a setting that will enhance the intimacy of the Quartet’s performance. In so doing, we want to help bring the uninitiated into the music without spoiling things for aficionados. Quite a challenge we know but heh – that’s what the Bristol Proms is all about. 


We are keen to use drapes as opposed to flat screens to create an ‘organic’ setting for the projections in keeping with the humanity of Beethoven’s late works. We plan to hang them vertically – one for each musician – to privilege a portrait-style view of the players. The thinking behind this is that it will enable us to layer closeups onto a baseline mid shot of each musician playing. We only had one musician, which was me – rather scratchy but enough to establish that the layering of close-ups over a static mid-shot creates some beautiful imagery which is absorbing to watch.

Limbic Cinema

A group of our students are part of an artist’s collective called Limbic Cinema. Whilst at UWE, they made a documentary about the rhythms of life in Bali which was screened as a triptych and performed in a theatre with a live orchestra. Subsequently it was commissioned as part of the London Olympics, Cultural Olympiad as a 360 degree live film.

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Here is Limbic Cinema’s latest venture – an amazing piece of projection mapping for Trinity May Ball about the history of time. What I like about these students is the intelligent way in which they are pushing film into new territory – using multiple projections, live performance and a strong conceptual underpinning for their creative treatment of ideas.

Pinterest mood board

I have designed a mood board as inspiration for my thinking for our cinematic setting. Shadows feature heavily in these images and we have every intention of picking out those fascinating and beautiful shapes that the Quartet make when they play their instruments. In line with general aim of the Bristol Proms, the idea is to bring new audiences to classical music by being innovative with approaches to its performance. Seurat’s drawings are a big inspiration – a recent discovery for me through my drawing classes. His work is wonderful – evocative and mysterious. Just beautiful.  

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We want to create an immersive setting which will allow the audience to become absorbed in watching how the Quartet relate to their instruments and to each other as they play. We do not, however, want this to compromise the listening experience in any way, particularly in the timeless third movement. I am looking forward to experimenting with the different possibilities for how we might achieve this when we have our full rehearsal with Quartet and crew next week. We plan to experiment with the lighting as well as camera angles to reflect the different moods of the music.