Black Hole – End of Time
Responding to the pandemic’s impact on the live event industry’s behind the scenes talent, Paul Alty designed a light and laser show in aid of #WeMakeEvents, a charity dedicated to supporting struggling live event technicians, designers and other behind the scenes staff who have been hit hard through Covid. Ahead of the show, Paul discusses sci-fi inspiration, creating through synaesthesia and the childlike joy of immersive experiences.
What was the inspiration behind the installation?
The inspiration for the piece actually comes from my music, specifically my three Behind The Clock albums. Behind The Clock is a soundtrack to an imaginary film, telling the story of Jim, a retired widower. He’s an amateur astronomer and astro-physicist who tinkers with electronics and physics experiments. In one experiment, Jim attempts to harness the kinetic power of the swinging pendulum inside his grandfather clock, accidentally causing a glitch in space-time and opening a mini black hole behind the clock. This creates a portal between Earth and space, and the black hole starts to eat the time inside the clock, Jim’s time. The albums explore this theme from a science and sci-fi perspective, examining time, space, life, morality and immorality. BLACK HOLE – END OF TIME combines the music, story and lighting design into this huge, immersive and venue-filling multi-media performance, translating it all into an audio-visual artwork.
I’ve seen so many artists and creatives perform in new ways where light and sound are the star of the show, not the human, and I knew I could bring something new and interesting to this party. What’s also important to me is that the piece is standalone in that the audience don’t need to know anything about the story to enjoy it. It’s first and foremost an experience to watch and listen to and grab a selfie. But if you want to delve deeper into the story and the meanings, it’s all there to be found, but not thrown in your face!
The installation will features a black hole hanging in the centre of the Old Christ Church, conjuring imaginations of their power to distort time and space. What is the significance of the black hole to you?
It’s no secret I’m obsessed with all things space and time, and as I get older I’m turning more and more into Jim! Black holes are magnificent. Their size and scale are unfathomable and what amazes me most is that you can’t see them. You can see around them as a result of their interactions with space, but you can’t see the actual thing. These cosmic behemoths don’t care – they can rip entire stars apart and the universe will eventually end with one single black hole simply evaporating away. There’s something so terrifying and equally satisfying about that idea.
How do you use light and sound to tell a story?
I have this thing called synaesthesia which means that I hear in colour so when I hear a sound or a piece of music, often that is represented in my head by colours and patterns. So when I’m designing the visuals, the colours are dictated by the colours I hear from the sounds and music. Sometimes the reverse happens; I’ll see a picture in my head, and I translate that into sound.
In Black Hole – End of Time, I’m making good use of the amazing church architecture. I love the dichotomy of a religious building staging a black hole. It’s interesting because for this particular story, the black hole is the focal point but you can’t actually see it. You see it only because of an absence of light, only when whatever behind it is lit. The second half of the performance is all lasers, around 13 of them to be precise! These beams fire from behind the black hole, bringing it to life and acting as the black hole’s photon sphere or accretion disc. The drama of the music is augmented with the lasers and other effects, but the black hole stays still in a rather forbidding way.
Part of the show puts the audience above the clouds, with thick clouds of dry ice effects swirling around their feet, they’re invited to look up as lasers light up stars in the church ceiling which burst with rainbows of light when the laser hits them.
What appeals to you about this immersive style of exhibition, incorporating the audience into the installation?
There’s a real child-like excitement and anticipation to being immersed in something. I think of standing outside a venue, hearing bits of music going on inside, with wisps of haze creeping through the doors then walking into an entire room where you are transported somewhere else. Even if that somewhere else, in this case, is still a church, it’s lit and presented in a way you’ve likely never seen before. It’s a whole new experience.
In this piece, the audience can walk around the black hole – they are in orbit around it and for each of them, the black hole is consuming their time, time they won’t get back. I’m waiting for technology to be able to simulate gravitational pull, then I can make it really immersive and hyper realistic!
What can people expect from the soundtrack which accompanies the light show?
The music is a 30-minute long track formed of music from a few of my releases, Behind The Clock, Divide By Zero and Spherical Prizm. The soundtrack also contains newly composed sections as well as music from my final Behind The Clock works which will be released in 2022. Combined, it’s formed from long, dark and foreboding drones and soundscapes, sparkling star effects, dystopian and deep basses and it ends with a lovely spiritual piece composed in an orchestral and choral style. There’s quite the musical rollercoaster.
Visually, the lasers are synced directly to the soundtrack and run on a timecode because the laser effects need to hit the musical points perfectly. Other lighting effects are controlled manually, and I’ll be running the show like any other live event from a traditional lighting desk. Rather than playing musical instruments live, I’m playing the lighting!
With the welcomed return of live events, do you think it’s important to maintain attention on those working behind the scenes in the industry?
Absolutely. So much of the entertainment industry is built on freelancers/self-employed and casual staff and you don’t need me to reiterate the lack of support provided to this industry over the past two years – it was all over the news and social media. As a result, PLASA (Professional Lighting & Sound Association) started the #WeMakeEvents movement to raise awareness for those behind the scenes who do literally make events happen. Without lighting, a show would be very dark; without sound, it would be very quiet; and without the crews, tour trucks wouldn’t be unloaded and stages wouldn’t be built.
The entertainment and live event industry is a significant contributor to the UK economy and throughout the lockdowns it absolutely was not supported and protected as it should have been.
#WeMakeEvents spearheaded the movement but the charities it raises money for, for example BackupUK, help to support all those people an audience never sees through times of ill health and financial difficulty, and I hope that the money raised through this event helps to contribute, even just a little bit, to the work they do and the support they offer.
I should, at this point, thank Old Christ Church for asking me to put this event on. It was originally planned to be a kind of antidote to lockdown – a public event to get out of the house again, but it has turned into much much more. So while the event is supporting #WeMakeEvents, half of the donations are also going to The Church Conservation Trust to help keep venues like Old Christ Church open as a community venue. Architecture like this needs to be saved and enjoyed.
What do you hope people take from the piece?
Primarily, I just want people to enjoy it and I want it to be an experience they’ve not had before. And for any young people that come, I want them to experience the same excitement and wonder I did as a kid. I think when I was a kid, if I’d have gone to an event like this, I would have exploded! I want them to experience new music, new visuals, new effects and above all a memorable event and one they want to relive again.
I hope also the event gets #WeMakeEvents more well-known and when people see it crop up on Instagram, they give their posts a like or a share. If it weren’t for designers, technicians and crew, these events would never happen and they’d have nowhere to go on a cold November evening!
Black Hole – End of Time will run from 4-10pm at Old Christ Church in Waterloo on Saturday 27th November. Details of the event can be found here.