Icarus Ensemble – Lips Eyes Bang

Lips Eyes Bang, Luca Francesconi (1998)

Lips Eyes Bang

I’ve been working on the video production for live video animations that are to be used in a forthcoming performance of Luca Francesconi’s contemporary composition ‘Lips Eyes Bang’. The piece will be performed by the Ictus Ensemble in Mid-May 2015 with a new female lead performer Elizangelina.

Elizangelina flew from Parma where she currently resides to Birmingham, to work with me for a day, imitating the original video that was created with Phyllis Blanford. I spent the day with her, mimicking the gestures that are in the final output of the original piece. Some of the actions are probably quite unnatural in the original piece but are edited in such a way that it links together. I set the aim to try and reproduce the low res, video files of the original with a new character, but also to produce it with much higher resolution and frame rates that would be fitting for a contemporary piece performed in 2015 (17 years after it’s initial conception).

It has been a tough process. In particular I have been torn as to whether or not to copy precisely the actions in the original footage, as well as the quality or to provide approximations. Classical composers are quite notoriously very specific about how they expect things to look and feel so my main concern is that the material itself is too glossy, too HD and doesn’t reflect it’s conception from 1998. However, to not update the features of the video to a contemporary standard would be like a pianist absolutely refusing to use the Steinway in a concert hall when playing J.S. Bach… it’s just not really sensible in my opinion.

Cretto Raw
Raw video still from ‘Cretto’ scene

Adobe After Effects

I have decided to produce all of the editing in Adobe After Effects, as much as an exercise for me to get back into the swing of working with the software as anything. The other bonus is the superior rendering and quality of effects available over Jitter in the Max/MSP environment. A previous revision of the piece, dating back to 2005 saw the composition reported into Max/MSP/Jitter. I was expected to follow a series of graphs to determine the processes. Something I have always been aware of with Jitter is that panning works as a percentage that wraps around the screen (i.e. if you pan an image right, it reappears on the left of the screen in a loop. With After Effects this is not the case and panning/position is measured by pixels. This made it incredibly hard to follow the panning instructions as the two different value measurements needed to be converted.

Deciphering Layers and Compression

There was also little information about the original file footage, and how it was captured before a series of layers and effects were placed on them. The videos are all provided at a super low resolution of 320x240px and 15fps. The compression quality was very low. This may have been the intention but I suspect it was just a result of the quality of technology available at the time for real-time visual processing. Consequently I have cleaned up the images and it has arguably lost some of it’s original ‘charm’ but what it’s lost in charm it has made up for with sharp imagery.

Working with DSLRs

It’s not often that I get to work with high quality cameras so it was really nice to get behind one again and play around. I used a Canon 5D MKIII with a 50mm prime and 100mm macro lens. I used a simple Dedolight setup to create the mood within the space and tried to get my Aperture setting as close to f5.6, my shutter speed set at 50 and the ISO as near to 200 as was possible with the dramatic light (to do my best to create dramatic lighting in dark situations. The 5D MKIII is very well known for it’s superior full frame, ability to pickup a lot of light in dark situations so was a great camera to work with.

What’s Next for Lips Eyes Bang

It is my understanding that the May performances taking place in Bologna are the start of trying to reinvigorate the live of this composition and see it performed across Europe at a few more concerts and festivals. Given the age it was made, the video interactivity of the piece and the way in which that it combines so successfully with the music is really quite impressive and I hope that with my new video materials, it will really add to the quality of the piece.

Many thanks to Lamberto Coccioli for commissioning this work and to James Dooley for coordinating and delivering the technical spec to the ensemble in Parma.