REM’s latest European tour marks the first time that the band has used touring video. REM chose XL Video’s live music division to supply their full video production.

Lighting designer Susanne Sasic originally developed the video concept and design in close conjunction with the band. They particularly wanted to avoid a "conventional IMAG" look, seeking something more imaginative, abstract, and genuinely integrated into the visuals on stage. However, the video also had to work as an enhancement for those at the back of the arenas.

The video director was vital to producing video that fit REM’s vision. Blue Leach, who had worked with REM for the 2003 Move Festival in Manchester, was the obvious choice for the band.

Together, Leach and Sasic developed a portrait format stage, "crowned" with a strip of video screen at the top that was comprised from 14 panels of Lighthouse LV102 LED SuperScreens.

With just one large screen, they wanted the option to output multiple cameras in any permutation or use just a single camera, if they wished. Video control guru Richard Turner designed, engineered, and programmed a system that allowed this flexibility, using a combination of Dataton Trax, two Magic DaVE digital video effects machines, and an Apple I-Book laptop to create an intuitive selection and playback system. Leach can have up to eight cameras appearing simultaneously across the screen.

Shiny Happy Cameras
Leach wanted each of the eight cameras to have a character of its own onstage–just as the band members do. To achieve this, he designed a variety of output qualities from which to mix and match, from grainy CCTV images at to crystal clear high definition. Leach describes his edgy mixing modus operandi as an "anti-popism," "Warhol on speed" approach with "no uniformity whatsoever."

Each song has it’s own individual video look that relates to the meaning and musicality of the song. The video is sometimes colored to mix in or compliment certain lighting cues.

The eight nihilistic cameras consist of a 3-chip DV cam used onstage, complete with its own menu of camera effects; it can also operate downstream of the DVE effects. One of Leach’s favorite devices, an onstage Polecam, is used upstage. Three Toshiba minicams with different qualities and feeds are used. The camera package is completed by three of XL’s broadcast-quality Sony Digital D50s: one at FOH and two in the pit on track and dolly, one on a ped and the other with a Cartoni "Dutch" head.

VT content is stored on three Doremi V1D hard drives. This changes daily and is shot by Leach with his own DV cam.

King of Control
Richard Turner programmed the screen designs onto a series of E-Mems on an I-Book for playback. The DaVE camera effects sit on the same user-friendly page as the Dataton-controlled screen designs and VT triggers. Leach can select the specific effect or look from a touchscreen palette specially optimized to suit his highly improvisational method of live operation. He also has a GVG1200 mixer/switcher for the camera feeds.

XL Video’s crew of four are Johnny Shrimpton (crew chief/cameras), Freddy Debaillie (screens/cameras), Rob Wick (Polecam and onstage DV cams), Richard Parkin (engineer and programmer).

"REM are one of the truly great bands of my generation, and I feel extremely fortunate to be working with them. It’s a very good looking show; the vibe on the tour is fantastic," says project manager Des Fallon, account director for XL Video. "Manager Bertis Downs, tour manager Bob Whittaker, and Dick Adams are excellent to work with."

The tour completes an extensive European itinerary before coming to the UK in mid-February and then going on to Japan, South Africa, Asia, and Australasia.