The 2011 edition of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival provided the setting for a truly unique experience in the annals of concert-going when the massive, 100,000-strong audience was brought together for an unforgettable moment of collective euphoria. An hour into Arcade Fire’s set, as the Montreal-based music phenomenon performed the hit song “Wake Up,” 1,250 giant beach balls cascaded waterfall-like from the roof of the stage. In synch with the music, these luminous orbs individually shifted color, together forming various flashing patterns as they bounced lightly and brightly above the clearly delighted crowd. For those in attendance, it was not only about being in the right place at the right time but about being an active participant in the kind of experience from which long-lasting memories are made.

Moment Factory was mandated by Radical Media to collaborate on Summer Into Dust, as the endeavour was called, a Creators Project production directed by internationally-renowned music video maker Chris Milk (whose credits include Kanye West, U2, Green Day, and, of course, Arcade Fire). The stated aim was to orchestrate an appropriately grandiose finale to Arcade Fire’s much-anticipated Coachella performance, a multi-sensory experience that would not be forgotten.

At the Coachella festival site, Moment Factory oversaw and executed the launch of the 1,250 specially-made multimedia beach balls, transforming the surprised crowd into an undulating screen of free-floating pixels. With the assistance of Pixmob, a technology created by ESKI Studio, each beach ball became an independent albeit remotely-manipulated pixel (reacting to transmitted infrared signals as well as surrounding music/sound) capable of contributing its own special effect to the larger, amorphous whole.

Of the several challenges facing the Moment Factory production team, the biggest was trying to figure out exactly how to safely launch the souped-up spheres into the crowd, in large part because the desert weather, the wind especially, is highly unpredictable and can change from one instant to the next. A specially-designed ball crate, subject to strict stage and wind safety limitations, was designed and suspended above the main stage structure. The weather, in the end, cooperated and the improvised drop-box performed flawlessly.

Of further concern, from an artistic as well as technical standpoint, was the inherently unpredictable nature of a rock show crowd, in this case, how they might disperse the shower of glowing balls, which was also a significant variable as the balls had to stay within a specific grid in order to achieve their intended visual impact. Again, as with Mother Nature, the crowd did their bit to make things happen, and in return, as befitting the communal spirit of the whole experience, lucky orb-holders were invited to take the sound-sensitive beach balls home with them.

Design Team
Chris Milk: Conceptor/Art Director (for Summer Into Dust)
The Creators Project: Executive Producer (for Summer Into Dust)
Moment Factory—Pam Rocks: Multimedia Director (for the beach ball stunt)
Moment Factory—Daniel Jean, Producer and Project Manager (for the beach ball stunt)
Radical Media: Producer (for Summer Into Dust)

Pixmob Zygote Technology, Summer Into Dust edition by ESKI
Pixmob pixels (inside the beach balls)
IR emitters
MIDI Pad and custom software
Balls provided by Tangible Interaction
Cranes + Ball container