Interview: The Light Surgeons (UK)

27 January 2012

A groundbreaking collective of London based multimedia artists, The Light Surgeons operate first and foremost as a multimedia production company with work spanning: film, motion graphics, print, photography, installations, exhibitions and live performance.

Over the past 15 years they have helped pioneer many new forms of cross disciplinary practice, from spectacular live cinema performances to bespoke installations and large scale exhibitions in museums.

The Light Surgeons will be bringing their SuperEverything* and LDN-REDUX shows to Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore as part of the UnBox Festival over the next couple of weeks. Their live performances blend the latest production technology with screen images (usually on multiple screens), layered, looped and edited alongside music, providing an immense sensory experience.

Christopher Thomas Allen is the founder and director of The Light Surgeons. In the run up to their Indian tour we caught up with him to talk a little about their history, production techniques and what to expect as part of UnBox.

For those not in the know, tell us a bit about ‘The Light Surgeons’ and your background.

The Light Surgeons is a media and arts production company founded by myself and others way back in 1995. It started out as a loose collective of designers and visual artists who enjoyed experimenting with analogue projections. Quickly we became established in London through our work with the music industry. At the time we were making visual installations in clubs as well as concert visuals for a vast array of different UK independent labels such as Mo Wax, Ninja Tune and Wall Of Sound. It slowly evolved into a more audio-visual collective as new creatives joined forces. We began to make our own films and live AV performances around 1997 through events such as Onedotzero, held in London.

Since then we have gone on to develop these audio-visual live cinema performances, combining a journalistic approach to different subjects. We’ve evolved a sort of exploded, expansionistic, poetic, documentary style which blends animation, programming and live and electronic music to create feature length performances which have moved our work outside of the club spaces that we began in. Our most recent project of this nature is called Super Everything*, which was completed in September last year through a commission from the British Council. We are very excited to be bringing it to the UnBox festival in New Delhi. It will be the first time we will have shared this project with an audience outside Malaysia, where it was created.

What remains to be your aim with every project/performance you do?

Our aim is to always communicate something to our audience, be that a commercial message or through our own artistic expression. If we are working for a client, our aim is to use our skills to try and translate their message, be that illustrating someone else's music or brand. It’s the same thing essentially. With our own artistically led projects we aim to entertain and make people think.

You’ve been going since 1995 and started off using only slide projectors. Tell us how you think you’ve evolved as technology has simultaneously advanced?

Plenty has changed over the past 15 years. We started out using mainly old analogue slide and film projectors to create these immersive collaged cine-scapes. We gradually become more and more digital as the equipment and software became more accessible. The release of Final Cut Pro, advent of the Firewire connection and affordable digital video cameras was a big turning point. That’s when our fascination with documentary film began.

As the tools around VJ culture have evolved, we've moved from film reels and slides to videotapes, DVD’s and various bits of both hardware and software. More recently we've began to develop more custom software for projects by collaboration with programmers. The last two large installation projects we've made have both required custom software to make them possible. We're very excited about this new era of being able to sculpt tools for each project. At the end of the day, our ideas and what we are trying to communicate has always stayed central to our work. We try not to let technology lead our ideas. Less is more as they say.

You’ve done such a variety of projects over the years, ranging from visuals for bands such as the Rolling Stones, Chase and Status and Zero 7 to installations and films showcased across the world. Do you have any favourites?

It’s hard to say. They all have a special place in my heart!

For me personally, the live cinema works are my favourites as I think they’re able to encapsulate all the different aspects of our work. They bring film and animation together with music, combining a linear narrative with improvisation to create something new and quite special. True Fictions was also a landmark project for me as it was the first time I'd had the opportunity of building a show of this nature from the ground up. Before that a lot of the other shows where made from assembling other bits of production work.

I'm also very proud of our last couple of installation projects. LDN24 at the museum of London and the new Voyagers Gallery at the National Maritime Museum. Both these projects pushed us creatively and broke technical boundaries.


For all the geeks out there, what hardware/software/tools do you use both for pre-production and performance?

We use the usual creative tools. Adobe Creative Suite and Final Cut Pro. For live performances we use VDMX, made by our friends in Troy at VIDVOX. It’s a great program and has a wide range of uses. We bring in a lot of different freelance creatives on our different projects who have specialised skills in anything from 3D packages like Maya or StudioMax, to programming in Quartz Composer or openFrameworks.

How do you feel about being invited to play in India?

I feel honoured. I’ve always wanted to visit India and its always a pleasure to travel with your work. I also have a family connection with India. My grandfather worked in electronics and spent many years there. Unfortunately I never met him as he died when I was still a baby. I’ve however recently been digitising all the families old cinema archive and watching his movies from the 194215142's and 195215153's.

Can we expect a future project inspired by or including footage of your time here?

We're treating this visit as research for creating new work. We've been trying to make a feature film that explores the concept of "luck" through different cultural rituals and beliefs. My short film Schimazeltov! was a short exploration of this idea and I think it would be really interesting to compare this idea with different cultures around the world.
India is one of the richest places to explore these type of themes, so let’s see. I’m keeping my mind open and ears peeled for any opportunities to come back. I'm sure this will be the start of a long and fruitful relationship!

Tell us a bit about SuperEverything* and LDN-Redux the two shows you’ll be showcasing in Delhi and then Mumbai and Bangalore respectively.

SuperEverything* is a new live cinema project that was commissioned by the British Council last year. It was created in collaboration with a group of Malaysian musicians and visual artists. The project explores the themes of identity, ritual and place through a journey across the Malaysian landscape. It’s the first time we’ll be showing the work outside KL so we're excited and slightly nervous about how it will be received. It was always our intention to make something that transcended cultural boundaries and posed a more universal question about who we are as human beings. You will have to tell us if we succeeded or not!

The LDN-REDUX performance is an audio-visual journey through London that we developed from our installation project LDN24. It’s a sort of anthropomorphic portrait of the city through to a 24 cycle that explores this idea of the city as an organism.

It actually came into being as a performance out of some sad news we had at the start of 2011. A good friend and collaborator called Olivier Ruellet died of swine flu while visiting New York. This was a real shock to us all and we decided to do something to commemorate him at a local AV night called Electro Vision in London. He was a really creative guy who shared many of our passions for audio-visual art and psycho-geography as well as having a strong fascination with the city as an organism. He had helped us at the early stages of our LDN24 project for the Museum of London and had filmed so much great material for the film element of the installation, we decided to do a live remix of the video material in his memory.

Who in both audio and visual performance would you say is currently really pushing boundaries and inspiring you to keep doing what you’re doing?

There are many contemporaries who are pushing boundaries and continue to inspire us. Our friends and colleges who work with us are all doing their own creative things. Other UK groups such as D-Fuse and UVA continue to create great work. We don't like to make comparisons between our own work and others. I think we draw our inspirations from all over the place. From new and old music, cinema, television, art and design. We try to not focus on any one thing and draw ideas from outside of the obvious.

Any plans for the future you can fill us in on?

We're hoping to tour and develop our SuperEverything* show this year and hope to find a way to publish more work either online on Blue Ray or DVD. I'm still hoping to make a feature film as I said before and I’d love to do a book at some point looking back over our past works. Maybe we'll wait for another five years for that. There’s always something new on the horizon!


3 most inspirational artists:

Robert Rauschenberg
Stanley Kubrick
Saul Bass

3 favourite albums of all time:

De La Soul - Three Feet High & Rising
Massive Attack - Blue Lines
Thom Yorke - The Eraser

Favourite 3 artists (audio or visual) of the moment:
Black Keys
Trailer Trash Tacys

**You’ll be able to catch The Light Surgeons perform in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore as part of the UnBox Festival in February 2012. Head over to our events page here for more info**



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