Paul Alty reflects on Black Hole – End of Time (from Behind The Clock)

Musician and Lighting Designer, Paul Alty reflects on his experience marrying music, interactive storytelling and lighting design to create a unique audiovisual, multimedia performance at Liverpool’s Old Christ Church in support of The Churches Conservation Trust and the #WeMakeEvents Campaign.

Taking place at Liverpool’s Old Christ Church on 27 November 2021, Black Hole – End of Time was an immersive multimedia show exploring the complex ideas of space and time. The visual and artistic interpretation of Liverpudlian Musician and Lighting Designer, Paul Alty’s Behind The Clock three-part album series, the spectacle was centred around a black hole and ran every 30 minutes for 12 consecutive shows each with an audience of over 200 people. Speaking to TPi, Alty explained how he harnessed his discography, 18 lasers and other multimedia effects to create a completely immersive and sensory experience that filled a Grade II listed church with light, sound and wonder.

 What was the inspiration for this project?

“The inspiration for this piece comes from my music, specifically my three Behind The Clock albums. Behind The Clock is a soundtrack to an imaginary film, telling the story of Jim, a retired widower. He’s an amateur astronomer and astrophysicist and tinkers with electronics and physics experiments. In one experiment, Jim tries to harness the kinetic power of the swinging pendulum inside of a grandfather clock. In doing so, he causes a glitch in space-time and a mini black hole blinks into existence behind the clock, creating a portal between Earth and space, and the black hole starts to eat the time in the clock, Jim’s time. Over the following week Jim’s life gets ever stranger with unusual time jumps and glitches until all of his time has been eaten and his time has run out. Jim doesn’t die but ceases to exist. His time and matter he was made from, consumed by the black hole and absorbed back into the fabric of space. The albums explore this theme from a science and science fiction perspective, looking at time, space, life and mortality and immortality. So when it came to performing this work, it seemed the perfect opportunity to marry the music and story and my lighting design work into this huge, immersive multimedia performance.”

How did you approach this project given the unique state of the world?

“For many years, I’ve seen so many artists and creatives perform in new ways where light and sound are the star of the show, not the human, and I knew I could bring something new and interesting to this party. What I think is important about this piece, in relation to COVID-19 is that it is not interactive and its simply light and sound filling a huge space within which the audience are free to roam. We were also able to naturally operate a one way system through the church. I also made the conscious decision to limit numbers per session. This was primarily due to fitting people into a smaller space in the shadow of the black ole but also having limited numbers meant that if number restrictions were re-introduced, it would have less of an impact on the show.”


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What were some of the key looks of this project and how were they achieved?

“My favourite look is during sequence three, the main black hole/laser event and at the first ‘drop’ everything bursts into life – the laser, the washes and spots and other laser bars and it’s all in red and white and you can feel the energy. What I think worked well is that for sequences three and four, where the audience are shepherded into a very specific position, in the shadow of the black hole and the lasers moving around them; they’re in a tiny laser cocoon but all around them is space and a huge church being lit. There’s a weird sense of in-your-face grandeur but also protection.”

What was the standout piece of kit or software for you?

“There actually wasn’t a great deal of kit. I suppose the standout piece was the primary animation laser. It’s only 3W but it packs a punch. Everything is centred around that laser as it’s the key feature. The laser was programmed using Pangolin Quickshow and that was what ran the music score too, so in that respect, Quickshow was the workhorse to the whole event; if that had failed, the show would have failed. I also had additional laser bars called Six-Eyes. Each bar has six independently controlled RGB laser modules with XY movement. They were placed upon the altar window, probably around 4m up, but when they panned overhead, they added a real sense of drama and movement that filled the space.”

This projected supported The Church Conservation Trust and the #WeMakeEvents Campaign. Are these two organisations close to your heart?

“The church was saved from demolition in the late ’90s and it has such beautiful architecture and is used for so many different community events that it seems right to help support it. It also provides the most wonderful backdrop for lighting. Meanwhile, the #WeMakeEvents Campaign is very important to me. As a freelancer, it seemed right that my event should help support those who have been hit the hardest. Theatre and live events bring so much joy to so many people that we need to make sure it comes back bigger and better than before. I combined my passion for lighting design and music during this project and I have plenty more ideas for immersive experiences. Black Hole – End of Time is just the start, so watch this space.”

Black Hole – End of Time raised £583.10 for The Churches Conservation Trust and the #WeMakeEvents Campaign, supporting Backup – The Technical Entertainment Charity. Since finishing, the show has been booked for a second, lengthier residency in 2022.