Ghostland Observatory is an American music duo based in Austin, Texas. Their music has been described as a combination of rock, funk, electro-dance, and soul. They have a cult-like following of fans that are obsessed not only with their sick beats and crunchy guitar hooks, but especially with their live performances. Diffuser Specialist had the privilege of sitting down with band-mate Thomas Turner to find out exactly how they pull off their dynamic laser light shows. You can listen to the full audio interview here:
How do you incorporate light into how you design your shows for Ghostland? What’s the process like?
Thomas: “It’s a combination of things. We use light and lasers. For the laser portion of the show, we have our techs come in from Pittsburg and we go through each song. Basically what they’re doing is creating a look with the lasers for pretty much every sound and rhythm that the song has. Certain patterns and certain colors should replicate a particular sound or noise in the song. The lighting itself is also dynamic. For instance during the song it may get really dark, then when the there’s the climax or where energy builds or there’s an increase in volume, the lights will grow in speed and brightness. It helps builds the song. So both of them – the lasers and the lights – they create a dynamic element principally through association with the music.”
When you think of past shows you’ve done for particular albums, is there one that stuck with you, one that you’re particularly proud of in terms of how it came together and why?
Thomas: “I don’t remember how many lasers it was onstage, but it was a lot and we created this grid onstage. The laser company had also come out with a new blue lasers that were placed all over the stage. That, along with the lighting, kind of made a very cool look. What was good about that show is that we had the same crew for the whole tour. After three or four shows, when you would see that lights and lasers synched really tight, to me it looked like one of the more professional shows.”
When you have a tour like that, how much are you able to calibrate the display? Is it one of those things where from the outset you have to nail it by means of having the correct equipment to create that mood and feel, or is it one of those things where you’ll do a couple of stops – maybe you’re looking for a little different ambiance and you can have that sort of course correction?
Thomas: “You basically you know where you are going to play. The tour has to be wrapped down a long time in advance. So for the most part you know where you’re playing and you know what you want the look of the show to be. You kind if just work out your budget to fit your rehearsals in. It’s different because a show might look good in a 2,000-4,000 thousand capacity room, or it could look good in a 10,000 capacity room just because we’re bringing so much stuff it could look good in large venue or a small venue.”
So it is preset? It’s not something where you’re DJing the lights with respect to the songs?
Thomas: “No, no, no, no, no! That’s all live too. We are on stage performing, but the lighting tech is hitting his lighting queues, the laser techs are hitting their queues. So they are basically playing the lights and the lasers just like we’re playing the music. The only thing we go over in rehearsal is the actual look so we know where the queues go. There’s always room for improvisation, but at certain points there’s really hard queues everybody hits, but other than that everybody is pretty much playing what they want and free to do whatever they want as long as it’s tight.”
So it kind of becomes a conversation. That’s really cool. When you’re making that dialogue between the sound and the light, how do feel the audience plays into that? Do you feel it’s sort of two-way or does it have that certain interactive component?
Thomas: “For me, I’ve been to a lot of shows where lighting isn’t the main focus of the group, so they’ll just have some standard lighting or a few little lighting strips – but I personally like it when someone is really involved with the lighting. If the band is performing and they’re good and the lighting is also good, you have to think of the people not in front of the stage – that can’t see – it helps to have these lights, everything shooting out at you and seeing – so you feel you’re still a part of the show and you’re not miles away and can barely see the stage.”
You mentioned that you worked with a team out of Pittsburgh and you also mentioned you having light techs that are a part of your crew when you’re doing these shows. Are there people that you work with consistently and why?
Thomas: “Yes, I’ve used the same firm for my techs, I’ve used the same crew Lightwave International from Pittsburgh pretty much when we started focusing on lighting and lasers and getting those elements involved in our show, so we’re still with them and that’s never changed.. They’ve always really been really good to us and flexible. When we first started out, obviously it’s pretty expensive to put on that kind of production and they kind of understood that. George the owner was pretty flexible and said, “Hey we’ll cut you a break on these two shows and if you start to get bigger shows we can compound from there.” So they kind of grew with us as opposed to making it out of reach so we couldn’t do it. They believed this thing was going to work out so they worked with us until we picked up some speed. We never really forgot that.”
Now with the lights you’re actually using, are there certain types of lights or brands that you enjoy – that help you create particular moods or feelings?
Thomas: “Ya some of my favorite lights are staging lights like the Atomic-3000. They’re like strobes, square, but you can synchronize them. I like them in kind of a random strobe effect, so you can go with just little blinks across the stage and then it starts to go faster and faster until it’s just blinding. Also, the moving lights I like (indecipherable)…my favorite look is like really tights iris-down white beams. I’m not a huge fan of lots of color, except for certain washes and things on the stage – but for dynamics black and white to me is the most powerful lighting look – when you go from black to bright bursts of white light. Basically I want it too look like a freaking spaceship or some kind of futuristic travel machine’s headlights – I want to see the lights hanging there in space.”
There seems to be kind of negative-space quality about your sound and the lighting seems to replicate that as well. It sounds like a huge space and feels like a huge space with that black and white contrast.
Thomas: “There has to be balance. If it’s just on all the time it gets old, there’s no surprise. If it’s off the same thing. It just has to be good balance. Same thing with the noise. If it’s just continuously loud for an hour it gets annoying. But if there’s dynamics to it sounds better to your ears. Same thing with the lights. To me the most dynamic lighting that I personally go for is bright, white, fast, and tight. I think that’s the coolest.”
In terms of the feelings that it evokes, what is conveyed with that start contrast and balance?
Thomas: “I think there’s an energy, because it’s minimal, but powerful at the same time. When it’s happening it should look really large and really powerful. When all the lasers are at their peak and all the lights are moving fast and everything is queued up it should be pretty overwhelming. You should look around like, ‘Wow, this is crazy!’”
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