One of indie pop’s most exciting young bands, Sylvan Esso, is making waves on both sides of the Atlantic, having played top venues across North America last summer, including the Fox Theatre in Oakland, the Hollywood Palladium, Brooklyn Steel New York and Prospect Park, before completing a European tour in support of their second album, What Now in the autumn.

The dynamic duo engaged production designer, Zach Sternberg – who has been with them since their first album in 2013 – to devise an equally exciting and dynamic set and lighting design capable of handling the ‘crazy spaces’ they played on tour, with venue capacities that ranged from clubs to theatres.

Sternberg based his design around a giant cantilever system of custom trapezoidal truss attached to six weighted carts, each of which carried 4 new Ayrton MagicBlade™FX fixtures which he used to define the geometric shape. The result is a sculptural element formed of a series of chevrons, the outline of which had been present in Sylvan Esso’s first tour as a static LED array.

“Nothing is horizontal or vertical,” he says. “All the carts, trusses and fixtures are at different angles in all three planes which gives me a great starting point to break free from the limits of conventional linear LED battens. The MagicBlade-FX give us more creative freedom as we can use them to mimic the structure, then break the geometry of that structure with their movement, or even make it ‘disappear’ by zooming all the MagicBlades out and pointing them at the audience. It’s a really fun design to play with, to be able to affect the perspective as well as the structure, and the MagicBlade-FX are the key to making that work.”

Sternberg approached the design of Sylvan Esso’s show knowing he wanted a reliable pixel solution which has been a signature feature of the band’s image since the beginning. He also determined there would be no front light, so the band would only be lit from the side and the back which, in turn, allowed a strong emphasis to be placed on the geometry of the lighting itself, so was very careful in his choice of fixtures.

Sternberg is familiar with Ayrton fixtures having used them on several one-off shows and festivals in the past: “I know Ayrton products and they are by far the most superior products out there,” he says. “So when we specified the MagicBlade-FX for what I had in mind for Sylvan Esso, it was a ‘do-or-die’ fixture. Everything else could be substituted but not the MagicBlade-FX. There is nothing else on the market that has that beautiful big square glass lens and the capabilities that gives.

“The way the MagicBlades are rigged, paired with their features, allows me to use them as an effect light as well as a wash. We can get big beam effects or use it to create structures in mid-air; zoom it in to act like a standard LED batten or zoom it out to look like stars. I can splay them out or create a cage around the band, or use just one pixel from each MagicBlade to focus on and illuminate each band member.
“They allow me to render nice colours on people – which is not the case with many digital lights created for effects – and in the mid-way, no matter what angle you are viewing the fixture from, the colour mixing is always consistent.

To have one light that can do all that eye-candy, reflect the structure of the set and, in another moment, also be able to light the band is great. No other light could accomplish what I ended up doing with it! It’s a proper, functional lighting tool.”

Sternberg programmed the show on a Chamsys console with the 24 MagicBlade-FX used mostly in extended mode. “Everything is programmed to a hyper-specific extent because the band likes the idea of having an operator with organic reactions to flow with their electronic music.
I treat each LED on the MagicBlade-FX as an individual fixture, plus the pan, tilt and zoom, so my show is programmed with several hundred fixtures in terms of MagicBlade alone! Each pixel is really incredible – bright enough for a single light on a band member to be enough in several numbers.”

The MagicBlade-FX units were part of a full floor package supplied by Clearwing Productions’ Milwaukee team (www.clearwing.com) who purchased them specifically for the Sylvan Esso tour from Morpheus Lights as part of the first shipment of MagicBlade-FX to the States.

“The fixtures have been the workhorse fixture in our rig and have been a joy to have out on the road,” says Sternberg. “In 12 weeks of touring we never had to swap out a MagicBlade-FX. Even the colours remained calibrated.”

Sylvan Esso played dates across New Zealand and Australia in the New Year before they returned to North America to commence a new tour from March 2018.

Text: Julie Harper
Photos: © Lesley Keller

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