10 November 2010
'So Close But So Separate'Video shoot. London.
For months now I€™ve been mulling over an idea for a new video sequence to accompany Moment of Surrender in the 360 show. Very occasionally ideas come to me in a moment of blinding creative inspiration, but far more usually they tend to seep into my consciousness very gradually, in a sort of artistic osmosis. Often ideas come about as a result of something I€™ve seen and liked or been fascinated with. An image or a concept might sit in my head for years until eventually it meets another notion lurking in there somewhere and between them they form a complete idea.
I travel by train a great deal and the station I use most often (London Liverpool Street) has a balcony that overlooks the entire, vast station concourse. I find it fascinating to watch people who are walking alone through such a massive throng of humanity. People passing each other at extremely close quarters, without acknowledging one other; it€™s hard to imagine any other species of creature that would behave in such a way. We seem to have such an extreme sense of personal space, with conventions that seem to take in almost all sociological strata. Even when physical space is rammed, there€™s a psychological personal space that remains.
Weirdly, I am often capable of finding these situations oddly calming, in a zen-amongst-the-chaos kind of a way (a bit like production rehearsals). This presupposes that I am not in a hurry and am without luggage, but maybe it€™s also the fact that I don€™t have to do a daily commute that lets me feel more like an observer than a participant. When I€™m in the right mood it can really be quite moving to look at this mass of individuals. So many people, so many stories in such close proximity and yet absolutely separate. I sometimes think about this at gigs too (especially stadium shows), looking at an enormous crowd, then imagining them as individuals, each of whom got up that morning and went to work, perhaps, thinking to themselves that this is the day of the show, making arrangements, travel plans, early dinner maybe, getting to the venue, finding the right gate, walking in with the masses, waiting until show time, minute by minute. So many stories, so close but so separate.
In the past, this idea has surfaced in a few different places (remember the Julian Opie €˜Walking Man€™ who appeared during Sometimes You Can€™t Make It On Your Own during the Vertigo tour?) Given the lyric 'I did not notice the passers-by, and they did not notice me', it€™s a bit of a no-brainer that this might be a clue for a visual piece to accompany Moment of Surrender, but it needed to cross-pollinate with something else to turn it into a viable idea. Quite often, at the start of the song, Bono has asked the audience to take out their cell phones and calls to me to turn out all the lights (even though it€™s Ethan that actually pulls down the fader). The darkness reveals a universe of cell phone lights that, in the 360 configuration, is so vast and so concentrated that it€™s hard to comprehend until you see it with your own eyes. Most of these tiny points of light are a cold white, but there are some green, some blue and then short-lived orange ones as the phone cameras do their auto-focus, with white flashes going off periodically. For the want of anything else to shoot, Smasher (our touring video director) picks this up with one of the show cameras and puts the image up on the giant 360 screen but pulls it slightly out of focus, turning the cell-phone universe into something gorgeously abstract. Seeing this reminded me of some work by Jennifer Keeler-Milne, an artist friend of mine in Australia, who produces beautiful large-scale oil paintings of out-of-focus points of light. Gradually I began to realise that this could be the second string to the idea.
This past week I€™ve been working with Luke, one of my video directors, experimenting with synthetic versions of the phone-light-universe. Luke had also made an animated mock-up of cut-out silhouettes €˜passing by€™, which was all very promising. Today was the day we€™d arrange to film actual humans doing a similar thing, so I made my way to the appointed venue at noon. This involved walking through Trafalgar Square to get to the appropriate tube station, where I was rather surprised to find myself in the middle of a demonstration by 40,000 animated young people en route to 10 Downing Street to let the prime minister know exactly what they think of his proposed education funding cuts (exciting times in the UK just now).
Our little video shoot was set up at €˜Indigo€™, the small venue within the vast O2 dome in east London. A white cyc (think big bed sheet) was hung towards the front of the stage and lit brightly from behind with white light. The camera was set up out in the auditorium, silhouetting anyone passing in front of the cyc. This was my goal, to have a series of people walk across the stage and we€™d capture their silhouettes on video.
Initially I€™d thought we might just get all of our mates down there to be the walking figures, but in the end Sam, my producer, decided we should do it the professional way and hire some extras. There were a dozen of them in all (plus a few of our mates who we couldn€™t keep away) chosen from casting sheets to give a wide range of shapes and sizes. They were a really nice bunch, mostly aspiring actors but all clearly used to being extras and knowing exactly what to do. Initially I had them each walk a circuit alone in silhouette, then graduated to pairs, groups, people going in both directions and so on. It proved to be extremely straightforward and we were getting exactly what we needed so I have high hopes for what Luke will be able to make with it.
Coincidentally today, another of our animators, Run Wrake, sent an edit of a new piece he€™s making for the next leg of the 360 tour. This is equally promising, so I€™m really stoked that we can head down under with (hopefully) a few great new elements in place. We are eighteen months into this tour and it€™s still in development. We€™ve always said that a U2 show is never really finished, it€™s just that the tour eventually has to end one day.