HSL Lights Massive Attack v Adam Curtis

HSL supplied lighting for the UK and German performances of ‘Massive Attack v Adam Curtis’ a mind-blowing mixed-media installation created by incendiary filmmaker Adam Curtis and activist band Massive Attack taking the semantics of image-music-text into a new dimension.

The show was world premiered at the Mayfield Depot in Manchester as part of the 2013 Manchester International Festival (MIF), then played at Kraftzentrale at Duisburg’s Landschaftspark at the 2013 Ruhrtriennale International Festival of the Arts culminating in a run at The Park Avenue Armouries in New York last week, making a serious impact.

The powerful and  thought-provoking presentation was a collaboration between Massive Attack’s Robert “3D” Del Naja, Adam Curtis and technical visionaries, United Visual Artists (UVA).

Lighting designer Tim Oliver has worked on various art and performance projects with Massive Attack for about five years and also for vocalist Liz Frazer. HSL was asked on-board by Production Manager David Lawrence.

HSL’s Project Manager Mike Oates comments, “We were very excited to be involved in a project as interesting and unique as this. It needed a completely different approach to lighting and Tim’s design was a brilliant fusion of ‘less is more’ with the idea of ‘intriguing yet revealing’ at the same time”.

The band performed behind scrims at one end of the room that were also used for the projections which immersed three sides of the performance space. The idea was that certain band elements appeared and disappeared throughout the performance – a process that evolved very organically in the two weeks before opening night in Manchester.

The majestic faded elegance of the Mayfield Depot provided a perfect backdrop for the world premiere. Operating between 1910 and 1960 as a bustling train station and from 1970 – 1986 as a major Post Office sorting centre, since then it has lain derelict and neglected until the MIF re-appropriated it for this performance.

The location itself was the first challenge for any production installation. The HSL team came onsite a week before the production to reactive the ‘house’ three phase power, co-ordinate the installation of three generators and run a power distribution infrastructure for sound, lighting and video and other production elements as well as the bar and front-of-house areas.

They also installed a complete working light and safety light system throughout the space.

UK Rigging installed around 60 rigging points allowing mini-beam trusses to be attached to the roof – some with customised beam clamps. The position of the trusses in Manchester was dictated to some extent by the existing steelwork in the building. The show was in one of the sections below where the original banked railway lines ran up into the station, so it is substantial!

Above the 2000 capacity standing audience space,  a main box truss provided hanging points for the 12 projectors and for various lighting fixtures. Parts of the performance had lighting effects in, on and around the audience … all adding to the dramatic, intense movie unfolding, complete with its haunting sound-track.

Lighting in this area comprised 12 x Martin MAC III Profiles, 30 x 1K fresnels,  used as house lighting and eight Atomic Colours.

Onstage behind the screen for illuminating the band, Oliver positioned 20 x ETC Source Four Profiles for band key-lighting and six Robe MMX Spots to light the gauzes and the band from behind. He used the animation wheels and shutters of six MAC III Performances for additional effects onto the gauzes in front of the band.

Six Robe ROBIN 600E Spots were utilised for colour changing back key lights, while 20 x 650W fresnels proved ideal for throwing shadows onto the gauzes, together with five Lowell Omnis, used for producing larger close-up and double shadows. There were also another five Atomic Colours onstage with the band behind the gauze.

Back-lighting the 11 gauze screens around the arena were 44 x Martin XB Wash moving lights, some mounted on flight cases. These were used subtly for creating continuity between the screens at certain points.

Eighteen 2K fresnels were dotted around the place and used at the end … as the dazed and emotionally drained audiences re-orientated themselves, and as the reality of what they had just seen began to sink in.

At the end of the shows in Manchester and Duisburg, people exited via dark long spaces immediately behind the performance arena, and right at the far end of these was a single 7K Falcon Beam high powered searchlight … scanning at low level.

All lighting was controlled by Oliver from a grandMA2 light which is his choice of console. He also ran six Jem K1 hazers and three Le Maitre Stadium Hazers throughout the performance to tweak the atmospherics.

The creative challenges were many and once on site at Mayfleld a great collaborative synergy developed between all involved.

The band had to be brought to life with lighting so people realised the soundtrack was played live and this required a specific and detailed lighting treatment that didn’t detract from the video – every second of which needed to be seen.

“It was a careful balance,” Oliver explains. “Much of it evolved through feeling the roller-coaster emotions of the piece and adding to the atmosphere and immersive impact with lighting”. This was a process that could not be achieved unless fully engaged in the work.

HSL supplied John Slevin as crew for the run of eight shows in Manchester, plus four more for the in and the out.

‘Massive Attack v Adam Curtis’ and its extreme dialogue about the ideologies of power, control and manipulation of imagination in mediated democracies, illusion and beliefs fuelled by knowledge, data and money and its impact on human beings is one of the most memorable performance concepts of 2013.

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