Over the weekend of April 20-21, the Marciano Art Foundation hosted a series of small-batch light and sound experiences that sampled the new album Lux Prima, a collaboration of Danger Mouse and Karen O. As listening parties go, it was pretty weird. As laser light shows go, it was edgier than the Pink Floyd Experience. It had shades of a kind of Micro-Chella, with audiences sitting on plots of living lawn inside the main gallery space and even actual rainfall at one point. “An Encounter with Lux Prima” was somehow both completely amazing and little underwhelming — but mostly just because it was too short.
Double the experience's half-an-hour length, and it would have better fulfilled its promise to be immersive. But that might be more the fault of the modern-day mind, which needs more than a few moments sans iPhone (no screens or pictures were allowed during the show) to reset to the simple attention more ideal for absorbing such a thunderous yet ethereal spectacle. In other words, just when the show really started to work its cognitive magic, it was already over.
But before that, a marvel of projection-mapping and beat-syncing, strobes, colors, smoke and illusion accompanied a few tracks from the album. A large stone monolith stood at the center of the room, audiences arrayed on the grass in a circle around it, as a series of increasingly complex moving images — from the psychedelic to the fractal, natural to architectural — created a parade of optical illusions, smash-bang drops and meditative interludes.
All of this was synced up with the lyrics and beats of the songs in a manner that landed halfway between concert and art, neither fully one nor the other, but not necessarily greater than the sum. Because of the pop music, the experience would not achieve the ambiguous, esoteric majesty of a work of fine art; yet because of the eccentricity, the music at the heart of the project could not take center stage. Also, one felt the lack of live performance in the experience, more AI than in-person.
That said, in a statement about the piece, Karen O wrote that, “Having a kid was like communing with the grander scheme of nature, the cycles of life, the transformative power of the mother. The music was calling out for an extraordinary presentation that brings people together in a heightened state of listening.” And in that “An Encounter” undeniably succeeded, and the Marciano’s massive central hall, once a theater itself, was pretty perfect. Now do it in a planetarium!
“An Encounter” was a collaboration with creative director Barnaby Clay, Oscar-nominated sound designer Ren Klyce; lighting designer Tobias Rylande; visual artist Davy Evans; creative consultant Warren Fu; and projection mapping artist Travis Threlkel, the co-founder and chief creative officer of Obscura Digital, George Lucas’ Skywalker Sound and Meyer Sound.