When veteran alternative rockers Depeche Mode decided to hit the road for the first time in four years for the Touring The Angel World Tour, a creative team comprised of artistic director Anton Corbijn, lighting designer Paul Normandale, touring video director Blue Leach, and programmer Fraser Elisha devised a plan to design what Normandale refers to as a “silvered 80s retro feel.”
Corbijn — who is also a video director, famed album art photographer, and filmmaker — takes the lead for the overall theme of the show, which supports album Playing The Angel. His role includes a complete vision for the set design, working closely with Normandale and Leach to integrate lighting and video looks, respectively. “The overall vision was of a molecule, carbon bonds and all,” says Normandale. “Anton is the sole visual porthole of the band. His ideas encompass all artwork, sleeves, and he has a lengthy association with all the previous live performances, including video. My role is very simple: to ensure Anton is happy and hence, by definition, the band.”
Back for another round since the band's 2001-2002 Exciter World Tour, Elisha and Normandale programmed at Upstaging's new facility outside of Chicago, Normandale noting that Elisha's “input is invaluable, often while I am adding hot water to English tea!” Upstaging provided the lighting rig, while XL Video supplied the video gear.
Corbijn's overall vision resulted in two stage thrusts with circular ends, six onstage screens of Barco ILite 12 LED panels, and a 9'-diameter sphere that scrolls text via three horizontal strips of LED Barco OLite. Motorized pods house an array of fixtures, including 16 James Thomas PixelLine 1044s hung vertically in a spiked array, a combination of Martin MAC 300 washes and Martin 250 Entours, added to which are custom-built devices manufactured by Upstaging, and some industrial warehouse units motored from the rig. Additional gear includes Altman Q-Lites, Lycian M2 followspots, ETC Source Four® 19° ellipsoidals, ReelEFX DF-50 hazers, Thomas and Tomcat trussing, and CM Prostar and Lodestar hoists. The ILite screens are hidden during opening acts by a black kabuki drop and the sphere by drape that is Velcroed to the circle truss, both of which were fabricated in the UK by Hangman/Alan Chesters.
One of the key elements to both the set and lighting design are custom-built futuristic risers that act as synthesizer stations. Perforated with holes, they house a total of 59 James Thomas Engineering PixelPup LED fixtures. “The set itself has a large number of LED fixtures for that quick fire colored response that befits the electro style of the band,” says Normandale. “Five Syncrolite 3Ks provide a contrasting beam angle — again motored into a variety of positions — and an intensity that briefly compares to the screen.” The show is run via a Flying Pig Systems Wholehog® 2 with playback wing, while a Kinesis System handles motion control of video screens and the sphere. VectorWorks provided the rendering basis for the design, made easy thanks to “invaluable CAD 101 lessons from Tyler Elich of Upstaging Inc.,” according to Normandale.
Video content for the show is a mixture of live mixed show footage shot by Leach and pre-shot classic footage under Corbijn's direction. This is the first time the band has used LED video walls or live cameras in a show. Three are in portrait format and three in landscape, all positioned right upstage. Leach is joined by an XL Video crew of four: chief engineer Alastair MacDiarmid, crew chief/cameraman John Shrimpton, screen engineer Oli Derynck, and screen technician/cameraman Rob Wick.
When it comes to the live feed, Leach ultimately controls the cameras and anything that relates to them each night, and it changes daily, with pre-recorded material by Corbijn adapted in places to fit with camera shots, which are heavily affected with digital video effects. “I had meetings with Anton regarding screens and their shape and hanging design, but it was Anton's screen drawings that were worked to,” says Leach. “I was brought in because of the way I direct live cameras in a ‘live art’ method — definitely not IMAG. Everything that arrives on the six screens comes through me — mostly live content with some of Anton's pre-shot and reworked conceptual material from previous tours.”
There are four Sony D50 cameras capturing the live action, two in the pit and two at FOH, all fielding an assortment of gear. These include Toshiba mini cams mounted on the viewfinders, shooting through for a “strange TV” look, and IR cameras fixed on the magic arms, pointing at the lenses of the pit cameras. The FOH units are fitted with Canon J50 and J70 lenses. Leach also experiments with other effects including hanging lighting gels over the lenses, beads, gauzes and various other surfaces and objects.
When it comes to running the show, Leach says there are challenges every night. “I wake up in the middle of the night on the bus, have an idea, write it down, and hope we have time to implement it daily,” he says. “For me, the show expands in all areas everyday. I can't keep still. [These are] good challenges that encourage innovation, always with ‘Depeche Mode live’ as the raw material.”
The pre-recorded playback material is stored on and fed from V1 Doremi hard drives. A selection of songs feature this material on screen, time-coded to Cubase machines onstage. A Dataton system also runs during the show and “dictates camera effects, picture size and shape, and detects timecode to run VTS," says Leach. He adds that he also uses it to constantly updates his ideas during pre-production programming.
Leach and MacDiarmid have also been editing and producing new material for the show as the tour progresses. A selection of Magic DVE video effects generators send images to all screens, sometimes a single image mapped across all six screens and other times, a variety. Leach mixes using a Thomson GVG Kayak mixer/switcher.
In terms of integrating lighting and video, Leach says, it depends on the moment. “The live cameras are a monster all their own,” he says. “I direct them to portray the live ethos of Depeche Mode. In places, the live cameras contrast the lighting colors; in other places, they complement. It really is a live ‘make it up as I go along’ experience. No two shows are the same, intentionally. My engineer and programmer controls RCP [remote control panel] effects that I want during the show. He also shades the cameras where needed. He makes sure the screens I want happen.”
The tour, currently in Europe, continues through the summer.
Lighting and rigging: Upstaging - John Bahnick
Video: XL Video - John Wiseman, Los Angeles and Des Fallon, London
Softgoods: Hangman/Alan Chesters
Columbus McKinnon: www.cmrigging.com
Flying Pig Systems: www.highend.com
Hangman Limited: www.hangman.co.uk
High End Systems: www.highend.com
James Thomas Engineering: www.jthomaseng.com
Magic DVE: www.snellwilcox.com
Thomson GVG: www.thomsongrassvalley.com
XL Video: www.xlvideo.com