Euphorie live at the Elektra Festival. Photo courtesy Elektra.

When a brainy, abstract audiovisual act can elicit some laughs and cheers, you know something is going right.

Euphorie, the live music and projection act by François Wunschel, Fernando Favier, and stage designer Pier Schneider of the collectives 1024 Architecture and EXYZT, isn’t brand new. But in the cavernous, packed Usine C at Montreal’s Elektra Festival earlier this month, it surely shone. Inside that booming rehabilitated factory, sound and video elements seemed to just click, the happy result of months of development, practice, and iteration meeting a highly appreciative crowd. Projectors and software, props and vocals, laptops and electric sounds were all jamming together like a band should. Part inventors, part musical performers, the duo are finding the sweet spot between technological magic and live jam.

The French duo of François and Fernando start slow, with a somewhat timid doodle on a projection screen. But that doodle grows into squares and boxes, as monochromatic projection across multiple scrims immerse the performers in electric-light scaffolds or showers of pixellated sparks. And then the neon guitars come out, and it’s on.

Conceived as a set of individual songs, each set piece couples simple musical compositions with visual elements, mindful in each of an inventive sound-to-image relationship. The pairings are traditional, but performed with a conviction and charm that’s irresistible.

Eletkra, Usine C. From top: the architecture in 1024 Architecture, as the artists produce a virtual structure on the stage. A “neon guitar” tube becomes an electrified instrument – and part of the light show. Photos courtesy Elektra Festival; used by permission.

The projector-and-laptop, doodle-and-geometry combinations might be as familiar as the instrumentation of a rock quartet; the achievement of 1024 Architecture is making them actually rock. A couple of darker numbers get into some strange lyrics and a creepy talking head, but in more spare, economical moment, the duo manage to hit upon something elusive: wit. There’s a sense of humor and liveness to the whole act, a sense that the artists are comfortable poking fun at themselves, or at least in being ceaselessly sincere and unpretentious. There’s even a sequence that takes on a game mechanic; the silliness paradoxically completes the illusion of being immersed onstage. Tron-style, Daft Punk-like EL wire suits seem slightly tongue in cheek, but in the midst of all this drawing and playing and screaming solos on guitars, you really do get the sense that the players have lept into the computer. It’s a real entry into the digital world, too, minus any Disney Hollywood trickery.

The duo and their set designer are also extremely clever in their use of minimal stage dressings to get a maximal immersive effect. Using three translucent scrims spaced across the stage, combined with basic translation and rotation effects in the 3D software, they produce surprisingly-convincing illusions of onstage depth. It’s not even really quite projection mapping: rather, it takes advantage of fairly conventional stage effects that, thanks to human perception, are also highly effective.

In a late number, shouting the names of programming languages and software tools (Objective-C! MySQL!), the duo almost goes a bit nerdcore – or at least would top my list of “bands to write a theme song for CDM.”

Obligatory EL wire. Eat your heart out, Daft Punk.

None of this really comes across in the videos, which to me is partially satisfying. It really feels like a live act; something happens between audience and performer. That said, it’s worth looking through their documentation and exploring their other, impressively-prolific collaborations.

1024 Blog
Euphorie Project [FR]
1024 Architecture Cite

Here’s a great behind-the-scenes / interview video by Le Cube (French-only):

These videos are rougher, but come closer to the performance I saw:

Tests, early performance documentation, and rehearsal videos get you a bit closer to the work, including this fascinating neon-guitar which I think really stole the whole show. (They’ve obviously been practicing, as they were far better at playing these at the Elektra show than they were in the early test videos or even some of the performance videos online. Touring, practicing, and audiences make a huge difference – it’s a good thing.)

Stay tuned to Create Digital Motion for more on the mechanics behind the projection techniques here. The goal of CDM for me is to have in-depth technical information on music and motion – each of which are fundamentally specific by nature – while the actual artwork straddles the two media.

Updated: Lyrics The lyrics to the song in their set:

We’re the Knights
Of the Lambda Calculus
Members of the Teraflop Club
Some call it bogus but its just
a computer Virus

Google Apple Adobe
Facebook of death
Evil company
MySql Objective C
Z++ my philosophy

Ebola Pixel
Digital Virus
Network Collapse
Computer Crash

We wanna byte
Your net economy
Its gonna be a binary tragedy
because …