The Intel/Vice-driven collective The Creators Project have done some amazing stuff over the last few years; filling an Arcade Fire concert with giant LED filled beachballs, re-imagining David Bowie‘s Life On Mars video clip with iconic photographer Mick Rock, Antonin Forneaus’ spectacular water graffiti installation we featured recently.

This time it’s the psychedelically delightful Brooklynites, Yeasayer, who get the Creator’s treatment, collaborating with software artist Casey Reas to create a stunning stage display for their upcoming Fragrant World tour. The installation is made from individually constructed pyramids, each containing screens that beam light and colour across the enraptured audience. Premiering on Late Night With Jimmy Fallon earlier this week, the stage display combines visual and interactive elements that make it one of a kind stage design. Take that, Lady Gaga.

It’s also a stride in the path of combining live music and imagery. Reas and fellow software pioneer Aaron Meyers had the daunting task of designing custom software to enable the light displays to be live-programmed every night, architectural firm Aranda/Lasch handled the creation of the pyramids, and extra video content came courtesy of video artist Yoshi Sodeoka. What looks seamless at face value is in fact a pioneering collaboration between creative minds, coming together to craft an experience that pushes the boundaries of what live music performance can be today.

We spoke with Casey exclusively about the development of this project in collaboration with Yeasayer and The Creators Project, and what it means for those of us eagerly awaiting the band’s upcoming tour.

Portable: What elements of Yeasayers’ music were you most inspired by, and how did you interpret them into the piece?

Casey Reas: The quality of the sound had the most influence – the captivating electronic tones mixed with asymmetrical rhythms. I’m naturally a percussionist, so beats and sonic textures are my focus. This matches well with the focus music on Fragrant World. Like the album, the environment will sometimes have an ethereal quality and at other times, it will have a driving intensity.

Yeasayer’s music is a sophisticated mix of conventional instrumentation with emerging ideas about sound. This integration became a context for the environment as well. We’ve produced an extremely synthetic environment at a very human scale that we feel embodies the music. To pull some references, the environment was inspired by some specific art installations from the 1960s and 1970s, classic science fiction tropes, new wave graphics, and crystal growth. It all fits. Really, everything was done intuitively.

P: How did you balance the creative and technical components of creating the installations?

Casey Reas: Every piece I create has a creative and technical component, so it’s natural to balance them. Ideas always start the work and later there’s a time where the ideas need to merge with the laws of physics and current technology. There’s typically a middle phase were the technical considerations are the majority of the effort, but when that’s over the work is free to continue to evolve aesthetically. The complex fabrication for the sculptures was gracefully handled by Aranda\Lasch and Asteriskos and the projection technology by Nick Gould. Aaron Meyers and I wrote thousands of lines of custom code, but we both code well enough that the technical aspects are always underneath a creative vision.

P: How much collaboration was there between yourself and the band in developing the video and physical content within the work?

Casey Reas: This project was a massive collaboration going way beyond the band and myself. The architecture studio Aranda\Lasch designed the sculptures, Yoshi Sodeoka produced a collection of videos that are projected during the show, Aaron Meyers created a custom computer vision performance system, and The Creators Project made this all possible. The Creators Project arranged the marriage in the first place and chaperoned it through to the end.

It started with Ciel Hunter from The Creators Project, Jason Foster from We Are Free, and Chris Keating from Yeasayer and myself passing around images and ideas for a few months. Once I developed a set of concrete ideas, I had a great session with Chris Keating where we more clearly defined the visual elements: mirrors, signal towers, faceted set elements. Moving forward, there was an open dialog with everyone involved; the best ideas remained and others were cut. The environment continuously changed as we prototyped the physical structures and software; it was fluid.

P: Where do you see this piece as fitting into your canon of works? It’s quite a step away from your previous projects.

Casey Reas: I don’t think of it as entirely different; it brings together elements that I’ve explored previously. I’ve previously worked with live visual performance for Sonar in Barcelona and the Ars Electronica Festival in Linz. I’ve collaborated with the architecture studio davidclovers on fabricated objects and with Tal Rosner on a massive projections for Frank Gehry’s New World Symphony building. And, I’ve created projected, generative software environments such as TI (2005) and Surface (2009).

The environment for Yeasayer is unique in my work because of the entirely open quality of the collaboration, rather than myself obsessively defining every detail. It’s also outside of the art institution and gallery system. I’m excited about both of these changes.

P: What are the elements that will make this piece stand out as an artistic display and an exciting live performance element?

Casey Reas: This project is about full integration; everything is brought together to define a coherent environment for the band to perform within and for the audience to experience. The goal is to combine the music with images into something beyond either in isolation and to carefully choreograph this balance across an entire performance. We don’t want to stage and images to obscure the band’s performance as they often do; we want each to support the other.

We’ve all done our best work in our own media (music, architecture, video, generative form, fabrication, choreography) and it all fits together in extraordinary ways.

To support a live event, we’ve built an environment with tremendous flexibility. The components will be revealed slowly during the performance to reach intense energy levels at times. Nick and Jay are touring with the band and will perform the visuals and lights each night. The aspect of live, tightly-choreographed visuals will make that aspect of the performance incredible.

P; Describe the experience you would like audience members will take away from the installation…

Casey Reas: It’s my hope that they will be elated. If that works, it will be because of the total sensory experience.

[All photos by Bryan Derballa]