Music tends to be a purely aural experience that draws off all the complexities of sound to evoke emotions, memories, thoughts, and feelings. It all just proves how powerful sound can be. Even in concert, while you can see the energy of the band on display, it’s still primarily about the sound, albeit the uniquely live version of it. However, many bands have created live shows that use AV solutions to marry sounds and visuals for effective and affecting performances. Let’s take a look at a few bands that manage to do this successfully.
A band that was really more than just that, Gorillaz was, from its outset, based on visuals. Created by Jamie Hewlett, the creator of the Tank Girl comics, and Damon Albarn, primarily of Blur fame, the “virtual band” created an elaborate cadre of characters and increasingly bizarre but charming stories set in an expansive fictional universe, all depicted through websites, interviews, and animated music videos.
It was through a few live performances in the latter part of their career that gave us a taste of what projection mapping technology would eventually become. The Gorillaz, in virtual character, appeared on stage via the Musion Eyeliner technology, even going so far as to perform live with Madonna during the 2006 Grammys. The technology produces a flat, two-dimensional image that offers the illusion of a life-sized, three-dimensional image.
The Gorillaz eventually dropped the tech, which is unsurprisingly not cheap, and performed live with Damon Albarn fronting a rotating cast of band members.
A duo made up of Nick Zammuto and Paul de Jong, The Books created music that wasn’t easy to define, taking cues from electronic, folk, and experimental genres while mixing in samples from all parts of daily life. They often defined themselves as “sound collage,” while critics deemed the band a genre of their own.
In live venues, The Books mixed that unique experimental sound with prerecorded videos to create a dreamy experience that bordered on the existential. Take a peek at their video for “Smells Like Content”, which is the same one they use for their video wall display in concert, and you should pretty quickly get an idea of where they’re coming from.
Grouper is the solo project of Portland musician Liz Harris, whom uses soft guitars, piano and organ, whispery vocals, and plenty of reverb and tape delay to create music that is ambient, ethereal, atmospheric, and, at times, even a little spooky.
In early 2012, Harris collaborated with multi-instrumentalist Jefre Cantu-Ledesma to preview Circular Veil, a unique experience that was one part art installation, one part live performance. During the performance, Harris and Cantu-Ledesma sat in the center of a darkened room with their equipment. The audience surrounded them along with cushy blankets and pillows. Visuals were projected onto a wall. The entire experience lasted seven hours, meant to mimic a full sleep cycle. The idea was to create a musical experience that you were meant to sleep to, floating through delicate vocals and warm tape hiss.
The poster boy for “hip” indie music, Sufjan Stevens receives consistent critical acclaim, and within good reason, interweaving folk tendencies and meticulously thematic lyrics with pop, electronica, experimental, and orchestral sounds. Stevens’ theatricality could be seen early in his performances during his tour for the album Illinois, backed by a string section of 8 to 10 members, known as the Illinoisemakers.
For his Age of Adz tour, Stevens’ upped the ante, creating a show that included laser lights, elaborate displays, costumes, and choreography.