I was asked to direct the visual aspects of Live_Transmission: ‘Joy Division Reworked’; an electro-orchestral reinterpretation of one of the UK’s most influential bands; Joy Division. Conceived by Laura Ducceschi and originally commissioned and produced by the Brighton Festival in 2012, this unique audio-visual collaboration between Scanner, The Heritage Orchestra, two thirds of Three Trapped Tigers, Tom Trapp, conductor Jules Buckley, Da Capo sound engineers and myself (aka Beat13) travelled to Australia, Germany and a nationwide UK tour.
Although I wasn't a huge fan of Joy Division at the outset of the project, I was acutely aware that tampering with such a well loved group could be a risky endeavour. Peter Saville recommended that we watch Jon Savage's Joy Division documentary, citing the bands desire to 'elevate themselves through art' as a key narrative theme. Watching that, I was smitten by the band's live impact and punk attitude, something I was concerned may not translate to an orchestral production, but I felt there was still value in bringing Joy Division's legacy to fresh audiences.
It was my duty to visually reinterpret Ian Curtis' stage presence and lyrical tonality, particularly as there were no lead vocals for the majority of the performance. To produce the projections, I created paint and scratch film animations, collages, miniature sets and shot abstract video content as well as making custom Quartz composer elements. Curtis was a big fan of William Burroughs and I responded to his fascination with cut-up technique by using online news for one sequence. The visible human project granted me permission to use their footage of J.P.Jernigan for another. I also animated Curtis' original lyric notes as they appeared in Kevin Cummins' book. I chose an iconic Philippe Carly photograph of Ian Curtis combined with my own photo of a smashed LCD screen to create the poster for the show.
As the premiere at the Brighton Dome featured the orchestra performing inside a 4 sided translucent cube, it was a technical challenge to create visual material that would appear coherent from multiple overlayed viewing angles. For touring, the production was reduced to two screens for practical reasons, however, this created more focus for the visual content, heightened cinematic impact and allowed more scope for depth effects that mystified many in attendance.
On the UK tour many of those who had seen the real Joy Division live shared with us their pleasure and satisfaction at the results of what we had done.
‘If Curtis hadn’t died you can’t help but wonder if this is
the kind of thing they would be doing today’