Joshua Light Show Returns to NYC this Saturday with So Percussion at the River to River Festival
This Saturday at the Pace University Schimmel Center in Manhattan the historic and mesmerizing Joshua Light Show will be giving a free performance with So Percussion as part of the River to River Festival! The Joshua Light Show (JLS) is a team of live-cinema artists who utilize oils, water, and light to project beautiful and intense images paired with sound.
In 2011, I had the opportunity to watch a JLS performance and speak with musical director and producer Nick Hallet. Synesthesia was the source of inspiration for the American Museum of Natural History’s 2011 presentation of the Joshua Light Show. At the show, the images created by the artists were projected onto the ceiling of the Hayden Planetarium and completely enveloped the viewers.
In 2011, the visuals were coupled with music directed and produced by Nick Hallett and featured the vocals of Ana Matronic of Scissor Sisters (Matronic was also was a live light artist at the performance). The musical style ran the gambit from calm and tranquil to the psychedelic rock of Jefferson Airplane. The way the lights and sounds played off each other was meant to create an unreal sense of synesthesia. As Hallett explains, “When I’m putting the music together… I’m thinking synesthetically. I’m not just thinking about what it sounds like; I’m also thinking about how it can connect with the gestures of the light show.”
The Joshua Light Show’s history goes back to the 1960s, when Joshua White began doing light projections to music, most famously as the resident light artists at the Fillmore East in New York City starting in 1967. White was able to use new and experimental techniques such as liquid lights, which utilize oils and water to create free flowing images to back performances by Jimi Hendrix, the Who, and the Grateful Dead. JLS even performed at Woodstock and backed the interesting Dr. Timothy Leary as he made his famous lectures on the properties of LSD and its use in achieving higher levels of consciousness. According to Hallett, “The Joshua Light Show has its roots in the 60s counter-culture where there were seismic shifts in the political fabric… I think that, when you think about music and culture and politics colliding, in order for there to be great movements in social change you need great movements in artistic and stylistic change as well. The Joshua Light Show historically is a part of that change.”
Although White branched off to do independent projects in the 70s, in 2007 he brought back the JLS we are able to see today, combing new and old talent to create a fresh scene of this once groundbreaking style. Today, “it is more about the Joshua Light Show being regenerated and those techniques being explored by younger people… It’s passing along this tradition to a new generation of artists,” says Hallett. JLS is not just a time capsule, preserving the “old style” light show; it fuses the organic, analog liquid light show of the 1970s with the modern, digital style. “I’m really interested in connecting media, building audiences, building bridges, and bringing people together through something they haven’t seen or experienced before,” continues Hallett.
To the members of the Joshua Light Show, their work is more than just unique techniques and visuals; it is a means of tapping deep into the viewer’s own consciousness. “In this age where we’re so spoiled by the interconnectivity of the internet… [JSL] provides an important opportunity for audiences just to convene in a space and have the Joshua Light Show ignite the space with ephemeral light,” explains Hallett. In this latest performance, they were “able to explore the idea of consciousness… We really got to think about and explore in artistic terms… what it means to really go deep inside and tune into these basic aspects of perception, feeling, and consciousness.” The power of pure light and sound, its impact on the human psyche, and its ability to push us to think outside of the concrete perceptions we typically experience, are all what give meaning to the work of these talented performers.
Although I’m not sure I fully achieved the status of synesthete after watching the JLS performance, I was absolutely blown away by the intense visual and auditory experience that was literally the only thing I could see when I looked up. It completely enveloped my senses and absorbed my mind. The second piece of the amazing experience was that I sat right in front of Ana Matronic herself and the renowned light artist Bec Stupak and watched these incredible women as they created the images that floated above my head. The ability to watch the production as it was being made is absolutely incredible.
JLS does a select few performances for the public as they mostly work on private parties. However, the group does have Liquid Loops II, a DVD that shows off the Joshua Light Show as well as demonstrates how the images are created. “We really hope that we can bring this art form into a 21st century context… We’re trying to re-contextualize the vocabulary of audiovisual techniques into 21st century consciousness and distribute it in a 21st century way,” describes Hallett. What’s more, when you purchase the DVD you buy the rights to the video as well, so performers can actually use the images at their shows. “We want to make it accessible. We are creating it with the intention of sharing it and with the idea that people are going to change it, remix it, and redistribute it and make their own work out of it, which is very much in line with the roots of [today’s] multimedia culture,” explains Hallett.
Definitely don’t miss this rare free show tomorrow at 7:30pm! Attendance is on a first-come-first-serve basis, so be sure to arrive at the Schimmel Center early. More details on the event here.