It might have been back in January of this year as I was pulling my trash can to the curb when my neighbor shouted to me, “Erik, congratulations on winning those Artist Foundation awards!” I was a bit taken aback because I hadn’t applied that year. But my neighbor was on the board of the Artist Foundation and should know best. I was fairly sure that one of the awards she was speaking of had been given to Amber Ortega-Perez. Amber had mentioned that she was placing my name on her application as a collaborator. But, what else? I eventually learned that Julia Langenberg, the aerialist, had also attached me to her application.
The project with Amber (“Taken in Arms”) began several months back. It’s a series of modularly devised inter-connected dance pieces. My contribution changes, depending on the location. I’m either filming the movements, or I’m providing the projection of live camera work as well as pre-recorded material. Amber has one last iteration of Taken in Arms to be staged in five locations throughout the day this Friday (yikes! that’s tomorrow!) around downtown San Antonio.
I’ve worked with Amber in one way or another for at least five years (I shot her 2009 performance of The Willing), and so we had already formed a working relationship and a sense of one another’s aesthetics. And, really, I don’t do work-for-hire (which is one of the reasons I’m always poor). I prefer working with people whom I’ve built a mutual mesh of trust and respect. However, I’d seen Julia’s work at Luminaria, the W-I-P, and the Guadalupe, so I had some idea of what I was getting into. The real sticking point was the venue in which the work would be staged. Julia’s studio was inside an event facility which used to be Jump-Start Performance Co., before the entire Blue Star “arts” complex went to shit, and Jump-Start was forced out. I mentioned my general sour attitude to Julia, but told her I’d rise above my petty animus and commit to the project.
Echo evolved into a fairly large production of six aerialists, six musicians, a lighting designer / board operator, and a video projection crew of two.
Putting aside the (very considerable) artistry of all involved, one of the best things about the experience was to see the solid work-ethic demonstrated by Julia and her aerialists. Also, Jaime and his musicians. I must confess that I’ve been terribly discouraged of the flaky nature of so many of the people I’ve meet in the film and theater scene in town. But, for the most part, Echo was a smoothly run production with some wonderful people. It was also beautiful.
My part in this managed to escalate each time I opened my mouth. Usually saying something like, “Yeah, we can do that.”
There’s a reason most of these visually sumptuous A/V presentations in town are staged by professional companies with scads of cutting-edge equipment and a brace of well-trained crew members. It can get fairly complicated. True, you can do amazing things with a laptop and a few consumer devices, but just about every new device you need will also need several other devices to make it play nice with all the other tech. (“What’s that you say? You wanna run a GoPro video signal into your MacBook? You’ll need this Blackmagic box. It’s a steal at only $150. Oh, and it doesn’t come with the ThunderBolt cable. You’ll need one of those. Only $50.”)
This is one of the reasons I pulled in Trey Cunningham. He has much more experience in doing this. He also had projectors to rent. But, mostly, I wanted an opportunity to work with him.
We ended up using: four short-throw video projectors, one DVD player, two MacBook Pros, a Matrox TripleHead2Go, an HDMI wireless transmitter/receiver, a GoPro, a Panasonic DVX, a Blackmagic UltraStudio recorder, a Korg Nano Kontrol, and a Belkin thunderbolt dock; the data was sent over various cables such as SVGA, ethernet, coaxial, and of course that HDMI wireless transmitter; the software used was Modul8, Resolume, and SIGMASIX Syphoner. And because of the nature of the venue (the less said about that the better), I was breaking down everything except the projectors and the data cables every night after rehearsals and performances. The upside to this, is you develop a deeper understanding of the tech and (at least for me) an increased level of confidence if anything starts to go awry.
It was the most involved and kludged-together setup I’ve yet had to devise. And because of that, I learned quite a bit.
Here are some stills taken from the video documentation shot by Destiny Mata.
I had fun shooting some of the textures which I ran through Resolume. I used my motorized Kessler slider to shoot closeup tracking footage of brown rice, lentils, split peas, and various dried beans. I also clamped a GoPro to one of the aerial apparatuses (the double halo) to get some dynamic footage of Teddy spinning above ground. I employed After Effects for some of the animation. And I used Motion’s optic flow for the poor man’s morphing effects.
Now, off to the next series of projects….