A pioneer of the ‘French Touch’ and key player on the international electronic music scene, DJ Étienne de Crécy is renowned for the eclecticism and efficiency of his productions. His latest tour, Space Echo, came to a packed Philharmonie last April, with a striking show design that featured Smode’s ground-breaking technology at its heart.
In a video produced by Smode and shot during rehearsals in Bry-sur-Marne cinema studios in France, he takes viewers through the creative process of his new visually striking show where sound and video are intertwined. “Music is no longer my only means of expression,” said Étienne de Crécy ahead of the tour. “I work as much in the staging of my concerts as in their setting to music.”
The staging for Space Echo was conceived by LightLab’s Alexandre Lebrun and was centred around an equilateral triangle made up of 13 Pure10 LED screens, which are 70% transparent. Each of the screens could be rotated using a PRG SpinIt motor, enabling the whole setup to be spatially reconfigured as the show dictated.
“This enables us to create complex architectures, or no architecture at all,” explained de Crécy. “It creates confusion. And the transparency of the screens makes it even harder to figure out on which layer the content appears.”
The content itself was drawn from a full range of effects, from highly structured geometry to confusing and blurry masses, and everything in between.
Artistic director, Armand Beraud, gave an insight into the show’s origins: “I have worked several times with Étienne de Crécy on his previous shows, and he has always been attracted to video mapping. For this new show, Étienne told me about his concept of transparent screens arranged so that images could be built with real depth.”
The movement, optical effects, and general confusion that could be created by the interaction of the screens and media content meant that it was vital to find the right tool to get a grip on the images in their 3D environment.
Beraud continued: “The first meeting allowed us to see the screens in action and what Smode could do as well. The few loops I had prepared were broadcasted by the ‘Smoders’, who were also at the meeting, and they highlighted the creative tools that immediately appealed to me.”
The software allowed Beraud and his team to render and manipulate the visuals in real time – a priceless advantage when working on such an intricate live performance. “The app also allowed to us visualise the scenography and preview all the principles of the staging,” he added. “Those were essential tools to validate how pertinent our ideas were.”
The final layer of complexity in the situation came from de Crécy’s desire to have the production work symbiotically with his own stage setup.
As production and technical director, Julien Bedane, explained, this was also well within the realms of possibility where Smode was involved. Of the software, he said: “It can only be described as an excellent Swiss army knife that helps you get out of any possible situation, as well as allowing the creatives to go the extra mile.”
De Crécy and Beraud quickly realised that they could not conceive of working without Smode, not only as a tool for broadcasting the visual content, but maybe more importantly, for creating it as well.
“As I had created all of the visuals for the previous show, Étienne asked me to handle the media production for Space Echo,” Beraud explained. “I mastered part of the production tools available but not Smode. Although the developers explained to me that only a week’s training would be enough, and that obvious ‘bridges’ existed between Smode and the tools I used already, I was still quite reluctant.
“The idea for me was not to demonstrate the various tools available in Smode, but to actually create a show for a musician. It seemed essential for me to be free from the technical side of things – or the tools, at least – so that I could devote all of my energy to the creative aspect.”
This responsibility was given to Smode encoder – or ‘Smoder’ – Roch Jubert, who was involved from the very early stages of the project. He said: “All of the content was previewed with a high degree of realism, which enabled us to have virtually no waste as the video content was created.”
“Smode is such a powerful and complete tool because it perfectly solves the challenges inherent to live performances, as far as the creation and playback of video content is concerned. Its unique features and the support of numerous communication protocols made it an absolute necessity for this complex and striking show.”
“Smode was designed as a live image generation and mixing tool, which makes it particularly relevant for this show,” enthused Francis Maes, founder of SmodeTech.
“It’s like some kind of ‘Photoshop’ software with constant live animated layers. Each layer parameter can be animated or linked to input controllers in real time, so you can directly and instantly tune the final look of a show on the actual video setup; be it animation, colorimetry, image distortion or assembly.”
After months of work and a successful show under their belts, many of those involved with Space Echo were quick to acknowledge the importance of Smode’s software in the creative process.
Bedane commented: “It was important for us on this project to simulate the position of the screens during the creation phases and Smode was able to encode technically and artistically to reproduce what the artist wanted. Where other media server software forces the artist to adapt, Smode is at their service, without limits.”
Lebrun was also full of praise for Smode’s involvement and investment throughout the project. He said: “Their constant updates as we progressed were very helpful, while the networking between Smode and WYSIWYG offers a lot of creative possibilities. Even after successfully using Smode for a complex task such as this, I would certainly like to spend some more time understanding exactly what it has to offer.”
The final word went to de Crécy himself: “I wasn’t used to the concept of real-time image generation, but it has given us great freedom to shape and adapt the content and media files, and to rearrange things and improve the show as it unfolds. It feels very fresh and brings a great deal of flexibility to the creative process. For my idea of having a whole show that reacts to music, Smode proved ideal!”