18 May 2011
'All Manner of Random Trivia'Denver. Load in day.
It’s load-in day today at the stadium but the weather is gruesome so Team Content spent another day holed up in the bar of the Hotel Fabulous. Another of the new pieces currently under construction isn’t for the show at all, but will run during the changeover between the opening act and U2. Up until now we have run a couple of different clock-based video pieces, setting the tone of the show’s existential question, What Time Is It In The World? These have been quite fun, especially the clock that gradually ran faster over time, but I’ve wanted to take this idea further and produce something a little more engaging. In the way that these things seem to do, it has ended up turning into a monster but Luke, another member of Team Content, seems finally to be wrestling it into submission.
The idea is that once the opening band has finished, random clocks from various time zones around the world begin to scroll around the giant 360 video screen. After a while, coming in the opposite direction, a whole range of diverse facts and figures begin to appear, concerning humanity, life, the planet, the 360 tour, the local area… all manner of random trivia. The clever bit, however, is that many of the figures are counting as they glide around the screen, giving running totals of everything from car sales to world population. If this sounds complicated, that’s because it is. We are working with the people who put together the site ‘worldometers.info’ who have helped us figure out how to use some of their information feeds. To this we have added a stream of information for each city, state and stadium that we will visit, plus some fun facts about the tour and crew and some totally random, curious pieces of data. One of the interesting parts of this is that the figures are by definition accumulative. The running figure of ‘World Population’ will be larger at each venue, whilst the daily statistics like ‘Cigarettes Smoked Today’ will more or less repeat from city to city, given a small variance for different on-stage times.
You will by now have realised that, as well as being massively complicated, this means making a different video piece for every show. To cover ourselves against delays and breakdowns, each sequence needs to be able to run for over an hour, making Luke responsible for a mere 32 hours of screen time between now and the end of the tour. In theory, once the facts are gathered, the layout is designed and programmed, and all the code is written, the day-to-day changes should be relatively straightforward but today we feel like we are a long way from that moment. Even something as comparatively simple as making the clocks keep time can become enormously difficult where multiple-playback and video screens are concerned, but let’s face it, we love a challenge.
My hope is that this piece will provide a mood or a tone that will set the scene for the 360 show. I like the idea of the information ranging from the banal to the controversial but presenting it all in an entirely neutral way. We've been here before, as this was the underlying ethos of ZOOTV – everything is out there, everything is coming at you and the sense you make of it is mostly dependent on your own perception and what you bring to it.
After two solid days of computer-head we were much in need of a night out. To my great joy we came across “The 1-Up” - a student dive bar who’s ‘ism’ is their collection of 80‘s video games and pinball machines. Oh, and giant Jenga too. I’ve never been overly interested in video games but, whilst happily wasting my youth, I became something of a pinball aficionado. For me, mastering one of these machines requires precisely the right combination of physical dexterity, logical analysis, luck and feel to make it consumingly fascinating. I fell in love with them as a child, when they were little more than glorified bagatelle boards, and have revelled in their evolution into highly complex pieces of human-interface electronics. The themes can help, or be completely arbitrary. I think my favourite of all time has to be The Addams Family machine, though The Twilight Zone was a cracker too, both of which had real narrative running through the games. Hitting the correct series of targets opens up special features and tasks that lead to the big points. If you manage to get through the whole series on The Addams Family machine, it opens access to the holy grail of “Tour The Mansion” which activates all of the special features simultaneously, and a high-energy son-et-lumiere to go with.
Sadly these machines were not present at the 1-Up, but there was one called Road Show that I used to play a lot, involving road building across the USA (I told you the themes are arbitrary). I haven’t played in ten years but, a couple of beers and a couple of dollars in quarters later, I was entirely back in the saddle and back in the zone. Not being the sportiest or most traditionally competitive of chaps, my colleagues were amazed and amused at this unexpected Tommy-tendency. I confess I was oblivious but I had a great time, eventually making second highest score, which I thought was a pretty good effort for an old guy.