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The Ocean Collective and Papadosio

Will Romano • Concert LightingMarch 2019 • March 7, 2019

Papadosio (top) and The Ocean Collective (bottom)

The Light and Shadow of Modern Progressive Rock

The thematic framework of two recent concept albums from Germany and the U.S. offers two sides of the same conceptual coin. The German progressive metal act, The Ocean Collective (OC), issued their latest record, Phanerozoic I: Palaeozoic, in late 2018, via the Metal Blade label, the first installment of a two-part conceptual thread spanning two records.

The Phanerozoic, our current geological eon, spans over 500 million years in the past and witnessed the spellbinding evolution of diverse life forms, such as dinosaurs and human beings. Through their expansive, if at times grungy and bone-crushing music, The OC takes us on a journey through the boggy environs of an evolving Earth, through its primordial past, to the very origins of our species.

Ohio natives and North Carolina transplants Papadosio released Content Coma in the fall of 2018 — an album that juggles many musical styles, from electronica and jazz to hypnotic late 20th Century minimalism and evocative synth-based vintage prog rock. The album addresses the ever-encroaching presence of hand-held media devices in our everyday lives and their power to both feed a constant need for visual stimuli and hinder our basic communication skills.

“I wrote the music for [the title song] three or four years ago,” says Papadosio keyboardist Sam Brouse. “This was at a point in my life where I was watching tons of television and playing video games and I was still not satisfied. I was in a content coma.”

Both Phanerozoic and Content Coma speak, in a way, to the human condition — tracking from whence we came and where we’re going. In essence, Content Coma examines the impacts of digital technology on our collective evolutionary physiology, while Phanerozoic addresses prehistoric and cataclysmic geological upheavals and what they might foretell for the future of the species, if not the planet.

Yet, for all these noted points of convergence and despite the fact that both artists push boundaries of modern rock, each band occupies opposite ends of the music and visual spectrums. If Papadosio’s music and stage production represents light, then The OC, sometimes labeled ambient doom rock, is its counterpart — shadow. Together these prog-rockers complement each other, a veritable yin and yang.

Diamond-shaped visuals for Papadosio shine

‡‡         The Light

A trip to and at a Pink Floyd tribute band’s production of The Wall left an indelible mark on Papadosio’s Sam Brouse, perhaps changing his life as a professional musician forever. “It was my first time hearing The Wall and my first psychedelic experience, all in one night,” says Brouse. “It left a lasting impression on me and my desire to have theatrics in the show.”

True to his hallucinogenic revelations, Brouse has ensured that the visual aspects of Papadosio’s live production are sprawling, inspiring and, in a word, psychedelic.

Hypnotic odd time signatures, keyboard lines interwoven with heavy guitar riffs and punchy bass pulses, cyclical rhythmic patterns and looped sound samples combine with the band’s spiraling lighting arrays and often-mystical video content to create a multi-media swirl intended to induce mental clarity.

“Incorporating patterns, like the Flower of Life, into the show, receive very positive feedback, no matter what language you speak or where you are from,” says lighting and video designer Dustin Klein. “If you look at a close up of the spinning shapes of the DNA, it’s like a spinning Merkabah, an interlocking tetrahedron shape.”

Much in the same way Content Coma warns us about the dangers of information overload in the Digital Era, so, too, Papadosio’s live presentation is a tempered mixture of dynamism and symbolism.

“I try to communicate with Dustin times to calm things down, because if you’re always playing loudly and the lights are always very loud it does not mean anything,” says Sam Brouse. “You need it to be silent sometimes, or dim the lights, or have no lights at all.”

Papadosio’s Content Coma tour used crank stand projection screens and GLP X4 Bar 20 battens.

Papadosio achieves visual balance in a number of ways, including introducing diamond-shaped video screens capturing content beamed from five individual short-throw projectors. Thanks to a computer-controlled cutting device (or CNC) and 120-pixel LED tape, these coil-like DNA and sacred geometry patterns were incorporated into the borders of the diamond-shaped video screens via CNC [computer numerical control] cutting methods. “It made a light box,” says Klein.

The band continues to deploy variations of video projection screens. Five GLP X4Bar20 light bars are attached to crank stands securing each of the video panels. A 20K projector, positioned at FOH, beams content onto five large panels, each of which support two smaller projection surfaces covered in black cloth. LED tape, sensitive to audio reactive software, is slipped in between the two smaller black projection surfaces.

“The LED stripping works like giant VU meters for each person on stage,” says Klein.

Audio information from an M32 mixer communicates with Ableton Live software, and “in Ableton Live all the instruments … get combined to one channel,” says Klein. “We have five feeds, one per person, of their combined amplitude. That eventually gets converted into a MIDI CC [variable codes] and is sent to a different computer that renders out the ISF shader for a specific screen. Basically, a MIDI signal gets sent to a bunch of live shaders that will receive that data and act accordingly.”

Papadosio has played venues with funky decor, such as Meow Wolf in Santa Fe, NM, offering the perfect canvas for projection mapping. With the help of MadMapper software and a 20K projector, the result was something close to a psychedelic funhouse.

“Behind the stage is a kind of theatrical set with small houses built into it,” says Klein. “I spent most of the day just mapping the architecture. But it’s a useful application: I can do all kinds of things, such as change colors of those houses and put different images in various spots on the set piece.”

At one time Klein ran all the lighting from MadMapper and Ableton Live, but has since tapped grandMA2 software for its many capabilities. “Figuring out how to control MadMapper with the grandMA was a huge step,” says Klein.

Video content is gleaned from several different sources, including the complex and distinctive artwork of illustrators such as Sweet Melis, Mike Hancock, Annie Kyla Bee, and perhaps most notably Alex Grey, whose psycho-symmetrical creations have led to collaborations with prominent art-metal band Tool.

In Adobe After Effects, Klein animates illustrations by these artists, “flies” content around, and moves “certain sections or portions of these images,” says Klein. “A lot of their work is so detailed you could, for instance, look at one corner of their art, zoom in on it, and spend ten minutes looking at it. There is so much detail in that tiny bit — if your brain will let it tell a story.”

The OC’s bass player gets backlit through the primordial murk

‡‡         The Shadow

Since the early 2000s, The Ocean Collective has linked their album cover illustrations and conceptual themes running through their music and delivered a multi-media live experience to fans.

“The last record, Pelagial, was a concept album that was a journey from the surface of the ocean to the depths of the deep sea,” says guitarist/conceptualist/chief songwriter Robin Staps. “We decided to start the show with shades of light blue and turquoise. Then we got progressively deeper blue and almost into violet as you are approaching the abysses of the deep sea. That was this continuous darkening from shades of light blue into blue and violet.”

The lighting design for The Ocean’s current live show creates a “cold, bleak atmosphere,” says Staps. “We want to have this frosty vibe for the whole show. We try not to change colors within the songs or even within the set list. We use a lot of backlighting and there’s not any front light. This creates silhouettes. We have lots of haze and smoke in the quiet parts.”

The tone palette stems from the color scheme applied for the illustration splashed across the cover their new studio record. “Phanerozoic makes reference to our 2007 record, Precambrian,” says Staps. “The Phanerozoic is the eon [that starts with] the Cambrian era, and we wanted to make reference to that artwork, which is, basically, pools or bubbles of lava. For Phanerozoic, we take these bubbles as a window into another time. The Phanerozoic saw the evolution of the first plant life and diversification of life on Earth, so the predominant color is green.”

Although some orange and tones from the red spectrum are present in the band’s lighting design, they are diffused. Through blending and de-saturating tones of amber or red help maintain The OC’s immersive, icy atmosphere. “We have ice tones, for example, for ‘Ordovicium: The Glaciation of Gondwana’, designed in shades of light blue and frosty white,” says Staps. “The colors are dependent on song content but there must be a coherency in the looks from song to song.”

Ocean Collective performs without any front lighting at all.

Staps programs the band’s lighting and says the OC has been using “a sequencer-triggered — MIDI-to-DMX — lighting show for years” to control a mix of Atomic 3000s, Plano spots and well-placed blinders to create a dark world. “A converter box that translates MIDI messages to DMX signals opened up a whole new range of possibilities,” says Staps. “It’s a little complicated and counterintuitive, because the way you program fades is by velocity change commands. So, if you want to have a lamp that is fading out, it starts with MIDI velocity 127, which equals 100, and you can dim it down to zero. I’m sure there are more efficient software [options] nowadays, but that’s how we run [lights]. It’s basically MIDI tracks in the sequencer that send the MIDI signal out via MIDI interface and then into a MIDI-to-DMX converter box, and then out to our system.”

Until recently, Peter Voigtmann had handled the lighting duties for the band’s tours. In a surprising move, Voigtmann has emerged from behind the scenes to The OC’s aesthetic shadows, so to speak, transitioning from FOH to the stage, transforming himself from lighting tech to keyboardist and sampler maven. Voigtmann appears on The OC’s new record and is on tour with the band in Europe this spring.

“I never really intended to play keyboards in a band in the first place, and I wouldn’t consider myself as a keyboard player at all — rather a drummer and producer who likes to dive deep into sound design, synths and effects to create certain moods and atmospheres,” says Voigtmann. “I ended up developing quite a lot of sounds for the new album.”

With Voigtmann heavily involved with audio, the band had a few bits of advice for new LD Dani Scheuch. “We told [Scheuch] just a few things,” says Voigtmann. “Don’t be afraid of darkness. The show has to be really dark. He should exclusively use lights from the back, so people can mainly see silhouettes on stage. He should set up the hazer in front of the backline to create cloudy textures, and be mindful of not using too many and only de-saturated colors.”

The OC has a versatile package for their lighting needs, including eight Plano spot flat pars, three Martin Atomic strobes, two 4-lite Molefay blinders, four Patt soft lights, and four Robe 800 LED Washes. A grandMA dot2 core is used for control. “We try to use the depth of the stage to spread out the lights,” says Staps.

“[Scheuch] has developed some really cool stuff on the fly during this tour, and he’s also doing a great job in turning all the houselights off in the right moments to let the triggered lights have more impact,” says Voigtmann.

Pre-production for the tour, a rarity for The OC, lasted two weeks in Germany at Ghost City Studios, in Röttenbach, several hours outside their usual rehearsal space in Berlin. Programming for the lighting, Staps estimates, was completed at a rate of two hours per song. At the time PLSN spoke with Staps, the band’s set list was nearly 90 minutes in length. “There’s more diversity in this set list as compared to the previous ones,” says Staps. “With all the LED technology you’re not stuck with red, blue and green.”

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