Over their 18-year career, TesseracT have become a prolific force on the technical metal-prog scene, famed for their technical prowess and faultless live performances. With live shows off the table, the band opted to turn their attention to the world of livestreaming. However, in true TesseracT style, this performance went further than sticking a camera at the far end of a studio and streaming to the world. Bringing in a collective of long-term collaborators including Director of Photography, Richard Oakes, the band created a live performance at Liteup’s studios that offered a veritable visual feast more akin to a short cinematic film than a typical live show.
A month after the show was beamed out to fans across the globe, TPi gathered a number of the key creatives responsible for making this show possible – including the band’s Bassist and Production Manager, Amos Williams. “We’ve always had ideas that are somewhat larger than our wallets,” he began, admitting the lofty ambitions of what they were trying to achieve with Portals.
The trailer for the show promised a performance that was an amalgamation of a feature film and a highly polished music video, mixed with a live performance from the band. “Thankfully, we have a very creative management team that allowed us to throw what we would normally spend on a six-week tour into this project,” admitted Williams.
The bassist stated that before they began to conceptualise the show, they researched what other artists had been doing and, without wishing to be disrespectful, they thought many of them were “rather disappointing”. He continued: “I think many people see these performances as limiting as they are being viewed on a square screen. That being said, why do films look so great even in this format? With this in mind, we thought for our streamed performance, we needed to move the focus away from the stage and look at the performance through the camera lens in order to take things further.”
Like most musicians, Williams was keen to make the case that there is “nothing better than a live show”, adding: “You can’t replicate that through a streamed event, but turning these shows into a cinematic experience is how this medium could be pushed forward.”
At that point, Richard Oakes of Dark Fable Media took up the conversation. Oakes had already worked with TesseracT on their Juno video alongside his work within the film world on projects including Dirge, Exit Plan and The Doorman. “Amos and I agreed from the beginning that you can’t replicate the feeling of a live show with a streamed performance so, from the outset, you have to treat it as a different medium.”
TesseracT Tour Manager, Adam Williams of Riverjuke, provided an overview of how other artists on the company’s roaster had found working within the new digital confines. “We’ve seen a real mix with each artist. On one hand, you have a band like TesseracT who planned from the outset of 2020 to have a lighter year of touring; whereas there are others that the pandemic hit right at the beginning of their album cycle,” he said. “One thing we can learn with hindsight is that many of the projects in the initial month were rather reactive and rushed, as nobody thought that the halting of live shows would last more than three months.”
He believes that the artists working on streaming platforms have been able to produce more ambitious projects, pointing to the Architects Royal Albert Hall performance as an example of this [TPi #257 cover story]. “TesseracT’s stream was one of the first livestream projects which had this level of discussion and it was a pleasure to work on. For those willing to think outside the box, I think there will be a lot of opportunities to intergrate this type of performance with touring when it returns.”
‘WE ARE NO LONGER DESIGNING FOR THE HUMAN EYE’
Production and Lighting Designer, Tom Campbell of MIRRAD and Laser Programmer and Technician, Daniel Briggs of AC-Lasers, were key to the look of the performance. Campbell had prior experience with the band having run their lighting during the 2017 ArcTanGent Festival – although the fact that the slot took place with the sun beating down on the main stage meant many of his lighting efforts were somewhat in vain. “I was very keen to jump onto this project to work on some of the ideas we explored back then,” he enthused.
Beginning the chat with Amos Williams and the rest of the band around July last year, one of the initial briefs was that they “wanted to create a world rather than a traditional lighting show”. Campbell explained the concept further: “The show came to fruition with the upstage ‘portal’ made up of a thin video wall that became the central focus.”
The LD was keen to keep the set quite minimal, with 32 Robe Esprites making up the backbone of his rig. The LD deployed 88 Martin by Harman VDO Sceptron 10s, GLP impression X4 Bar 20s, JDC1s and FR10s. The show was controlled via an Avolites Arena with a Quartz as a backup.
As well as providing a space for the performance, Liteup supplied lighting equipment for the shoot. “Our team at MIRRAD have used Liteup’s studio throughout the summer for other performances and I use them as my main supplier for a large number of my tours,” explained Campbell.
“As a designer, it’s a rare scenario to have your pick from a supplier’s inventory, with everything readily available on site,” he noted. Liteup’s Marc Callaghan added: “It is always a pleasure working with Tom Campbell of MIRRAD. Portals is another fine example of thinking out of the box to create original and amazing show designs.”
The design of the show was relatively dark, with Campbell focussing heavily on negative space – a fact that pleased Oakes when it came to filming. “Tom’s lighting design really melded well with my shooting style,” stated Oakes. “I much prefer to shoot in a dark room and build little bits of light rather that have to scoop our shadows from a super bright room.”
The innovative use of lasers was an element that the visual team were keen to outline in more detail. “One of the main things that really grabbed my attention with this show was when Tom explained to me that they were looking to design specifically for the camera, which couldn’t be replicated in the real world,” remarked Briggs.
“We are no longer designing for the human eye,” added Campbell. The collective created some outstanding laser effects that were only visible through a camera lens. “This effect works on the same principle that enables you to see a rotating wheel or helicopter rotor appear to slow or stop on film,” explained Briggs. “Working with this rolling shutter principle, we were able to capture laser looks that were not possible to recreate in real life such as segments of static or reversing beams, so it appeared at times that laser beams appear from thin air.”
Although the looks were not possible to see with the naked eye, they revealed themselves through the camera feed in real time. “It took me a long time to get my head around the concept,” stated Oakes who, alongside Campbell and Briggs, worked into the early hours of the morning dialling in these looks. Safety of the camera crew and their equipment was of paramount importance and Briggs explained the measures he’d put in place to ensure everything went smoothly.
“Typically, you would zone into a safe area in the roof for a live performance, but on this shoot, we ended up with over 20 different projection zones placed around the band. Both the band and crew were given very specific instructions on safe working areas.”
The lasers package featured four AC-MFLs and six Tarm11s, controlled by Pangolin Beyond software. “I got a number of calls after this show asking how we achieved some of these looks,” Briggs stated proudly. “Many were asking if we’d added CGI to the footage, but the beauty of this show is that all the looks were done in real time and all in camera.”
Helping capture all the shots was a four-man crew using Blackmagic Design cameras. “They are always my camera of choice,” enthused Oakes. For the shoot, he turned to Design Ursa Mini Pro G2, which enabled him to capture the cinematic looks he and the band were after.
“These types of shots are usually imposable to capture on a traditional live shoot as you are often dealing with standard broadcast cameras, so having the G2 was certainly a benefit.” Cameraworks provided all the camera equipment for the project.
‘I HAD NO IDEA THAT IEMS COULD SOUND THIS GOOD’
Isaac Powell was brought in to handle the streaming mix alongside the band’s IEM mixes. Debuting at the band’s Bloodstock Festival performance in 2019, Powell had worked with TesseracT intermittently over the years, overseeing their audio needs. “I didn’t really know what I was getting into back in 2019,” he chuckled. “I must admit, coming in fresh to the band was made easier by how dialled in their IEM setup already was, with the band owning a great deal of their own equipment. When I first heard their mixes, I had no idea that IEMs could sound this good.”
Once Powell got the call to work on this performance, he and the band set about recreating their touring package. As TesseracT owned a large majority of the backline system, the main piece of gear the FOH Engineer had to get his hands on was a mixing console. The team at Patchwork provided Powell with a DiGiCo SD11, along with a DiGigrid MGB to record straight into Logic onto two laptops – a main and a backup.
Chris Parker of Patchwork commented on the company’s involvement with the project: “We were very excited to be brought into the project by our friends at Riverjuke, and it was clear from the get-go that the members of TesseracT are incredibly knowledgeable in audio systems.
“Over the past year, we’ve been diversifying towards video shoots and livestreams where our touring control packages are perfectly suited to taking multitrack recordings as well as monitor and broadcast mixes,” he commented. “We are looking forward to future projects with the team to develop a consistent touring package, for a sleek and powerful setup to reflect the music TesseracT create.”
Powell, who is primarily a live audio engineer, described the switch to becoming a recoding engineer for this project. “Although I’ve never officially been anything but a live sound engineer, while working in the live environment, I don’t think there has ever been a show I haven’t recorded – even in the early days working my way up in Cardiff recording cover bands. So, it wasn’t too much a leap recording this show.”
He went on to explain that he always had faith that the production was going to sound great. “The sources coming off stage were just good and all the band have really dialled in their tones over the years on the Kemper amps.” All the tracks were then mastered by the band’s very own Acle Kahney, before being added to the final livestream.
‘THESE ARE THINGS YOU JUST CAN’T DO IN A LIVE SHOW’
What was refreshing about the conversation with the wider TesseracT: Portals crew was how each department embraced the streaming medium. Williams explained: “The fact that we were able to include cut scenes with actors and create these visual worlds – these are things you just can’t do in a live show.”
The common consensus was that streaming opens the door to higher production values for performances and could also provide up-and-coming bands exposure. “I’ve had a band do a livestream where the production value was higher than they would have for their usual support slot and, as a result, they got better offers for festival season next year,” added Campbell, who agreed with Williams that embracing streaming provides opportunities for bands to push the creative envelope.
“For those bands wishing to think outside the box, there are going to be so many opportunities in the future to integrate this type of streamed event with regular live shows,” concluded Williams. “Everyone on this call will agree, this does not replace a live show and I think people will flock back to gigs when it’s safe to do so. That said, I’ve also every faith that people are going to continue to explore this streamed medium and find a way to integrate this into standard album cycles.”
This article originally appeared in issue #259 of TPi, which you can read here.
Photos: TesseracT Management