Known as much for his visual aesthetic as well as for his music, David Bowie is exploring the ever-expanding world of video projection for his current "Reality" tour. The show kicked off in Copenhagen in mid October and heads to the UK this month before going on to the US, and is currently scheduled to run through next March.
This “Reality” show is directed by Bowie himself and features lighting design by Tom Kenny, lighting programmer/director Mark Cunniffe, video coordination by Laura Frank, video content produced by Marcus Viner of Blink TV, FOH sound engineer Pete Keppler and costume designer Therese Deprez, who’s best known as a production designer of independent films. The tour is production managed by Steve Martin and Hels Smith, and equipment suppliers include LSD (lighting), XL Video (video projection) and ADLIB Audio (sound). Bowie was closely involved in all aspects of the production, merging the mediums of lighting, video, and sound as a backdrop to the Thin White Duke himself on his largest tour in a decade.
The stage features two sets of Barco D-Lite 14 medium resolution LED screens. The upstage surface measures 40ft by 10 ft, and the five 10 meter square downstage surfaces are arranged in a five-sided semi-spherical shape above the trim of the lighting trusses.
The low-res aesthetic, specified by Bowie, is further enhanced with 11 lipstick surveillance-style mini cams mounted around the stage for live feeds, and a Dome operated spy-cam that roams around backstage. There’s also one broadcast quality operated camera positioned at FOH, which tracks Bowie throughout the show.
The 18 separate video sources include four Grass Valley Profile hard drives containing the pre-recorded footage and animations produced by Blink (12 songs worth in total), and an LSD M-Box computer and graphics generator. The complex system and routing design was undertaken by video specialist Richard Turner. Ironically, he’s devised a highly sophisticated method to run a show that aesthetically emulates a “low tech” environment.
The upstage screen can be configured as a single surface or as four separate areas, the downstage screen has five areas, and the two side screens make a total of 11 potential destinations to which the 18 sources can be routed. Two laptops running Barco X-Lite software are used to control the nine separate SDI processors splitting the onstage D-lite screens into separate surface areas.
All sources are fed through a Composite 16 x 16 matrix and then into two quad splits, as groups of four cameras at a time had to be selectable for sending to the screens. The sets of four cameras are then fed to a 16 x 16 SDI matrix and effects—such as distressing, de-saturating, and coloration--are applied on top via two Magic DVEs (digital video effects). These are then fed back into the matrix and routed to any one of the nine upstage and downstage screen surfaces.
The Profiles and most of the pre-recorded footage is run on cue via a Dataton system driven by XL’s Andy Joyes. Clips for some songs are fired via timecode from the backing track, running on an Akai 16-track hard drive, executed by the MD. Joyes handles all of the camera switching, which is pre-routed, and the M-Box computer is fired via DMX signals from the lighting desk.
On the audio front, FOH engineer Keppler specified over 100 JBL VerTec line array elements for the tour. ADLIB is supplying 32 VerTec 4889 top boxes and 32 VerTec 4880 subs for the main hang, and a center cluster of three VT4887 down-fill cabinets. The side hangs comprise of 32 VT4888 ‘midi’ sized enclosures and six 4887 ‘baby’ VerTecs are utilized as front fills. The entire system is powered by 52 Crown VZ 5002 amplifiers.
The sound system is managed via 10 BSS Omnidrive units controlled from a wireless Tablet PC running the SoundBench 2 software, all supplied by ADLIB. Each main hang is split into three zones – top, middle and bottom – for optimum controllability, and the side hangs are configured as two zones. ADLIB’s crew includes Marc Peers, Dave Davies and Tony Szabo and monitor world is engineered by Mike Prowda. The full monitor system, mics, FOH desk (a Yamaha PM1D) and effects are all supplied to the tour via New York-based Firehouse Productions.
The Reality tour visits 14 countries on its three-month European leg before transferring to the US, South America and Japan.