The Rite of Spring – A Sound Responsive Laser Performance

A sound-responsive laser installation set to The Rite of Spring, performed with the North Netherlands Symphony Orchestra.

Arcade were commissioned to make a visual accompaniment to Stravinsky’s masterpiece. The project was produced by the Groninger Forum for the Timeshift festival in Holland, to celebrate the 100-year anniversary of the controversial first performance of The Rite of Spring. Our response was to construct a virtual architecture from laser beams, transforming the music into a dynamic forest of sound and light.

50 lasers were installed in the auditorium, each one connected to an individual instrument. Custom-built electronics allowed them to react the musicians’ performances; the louder the musician played, the brighter the beam. At certain times mirrors would be moved or unveiled to direct the beams to different areas of the auditorium, creating new abstract forms in space to compliment the different movements of the piece.

The resulting walls of light emanating from behind the orchestra and extending through the audience formed a direct spatial visualisation of the music.

Le Sacre du Printemps - North Netherlands Symphony Orchestra and Studio Arcade

Photo by Martin Lambeek

Le Sacre du Printemps - North Netherlands Symphony Orchestra and Studio Arcade

Photo by Martin Lambeek

Le Sacre du Printemps - North Netherlands Symphony Orchestra and Studio Arcade

Photo by Asami Yoshida

Le Sacre du Printemps - North Netherlands Symphony Orchestra and Studio Arcade

Photo by Asami Yoshida

The performance used 50 custom devices consisting of 20mW laser modules connected to piezos via custom housed PCBs (designed by Neil Mendoza). The Piezos were attached to instruments with specially designed putty to pick up the audio vibrations. The resulting signal was processed by the PCBs (placed beneath the musicians’ seats), and used to control the lasers positioned on the balcony. The lasers were dimmed using PWM, allowing us to reflect the intensity of the musician’s efforts in the brightness of the beams. Controls were built in to adjust the signal coming from the piezos, allowing us to calibrate each device to a range of different instruments.

These were the only components; the installation responded only to the musicians, so no computers or software were used to control or moniter the performance.

In terms of the environment, we combined a water based hazer with two smoke machines, which were operated via a DMX controller. Moveable mirrors were used to control the direction of lasers, giving us several spatial configurations. The mirrors, along with the laser mounts, were designed to fit exactly within the existing architecture of the auditorium without damaging it. We took a more analog approach to this, using 3D modelling and CNC to design a series of bespoke but simple MDF fixtures, that were manually operated when required.

Custom housed PCB

Custom housed PCB

Preparing the devices

Preparing the devices

Addressing the orchestra

Addressing the orchestra – photo by Gerda Vrugteman

Testing the lasers

Testing the lasers

In terms of roles, Keiichi Matsuda designed the performance and fixings while I produced the project and oversaw the technical aspect from our side. Neil Mendoza designed and sourced the PCB and acted as technical consultant. Sander Trispel produced the piece on behalf of Groningen Forum. Also, huge thanks to our stage hands Martin Lambeek, Tanko and Emiel, to Lee Daley for filming and Juliet Alliban (and Lee) for doing some last minute cable tidying.

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