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The lightshow wizard method | Andrew Schembri

Andrew Schembri, one half of the lighting installation duo Late Interactive, speaks about how the young company’s unique approach to lighting for culture and entertainment events came about, ahead of their next showcase – IDDI, which forms part of the Malta International Arts Festival

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic
5 July 2017, 7:30am
Late Interactive are Toni Gialanze (left) and Andrew Schembri
Late Interactive are Toni Gialanze (left) and Andrew Schembri
How did Late Interactive first come together, and what were some of its main goals?

Late Interactive formed in early 2016. There was a call for proposals for Science in the City that year and the theme revolved around psychology. I was messing around with LEDs at that time and wanted to create an installation where participants could control music and a bunch of LEDs with their brain. I knew of Toni Gialanze and that he was a very talented digital artist and approached him so that he could program the visuals. That installation, Brainrave, was a huge success at the festival and after that we knew we’d work together again.

Late Interactive’s initial goals were to create interactive art. We’re both fascinated by the idea of our audience members being participants rather than just spectators. However when event promoters and musicians showed interest in featuring our work in stage designs or in music venues we stepped up to the occasion. So I would say Late Interactive’s goals right now are to create interactive art as well as stage and light designs for events. I’m sure our goals will shift again in the near future.

The work you do certainly requires you to be adept at a mixed array of skills and technical knowledge – what is your background and training, and what kind of skill set do you employ for your projects?

Late Interactive provided the lighting for the launch concert of Brikkuni’s third album, Rub Al Khali (Photo: Lindsey Bahia)
Late Interactive provided the lighting for the launch concert of Brikkuni’s third album, Rub Al Khali (Photo: Lindsey Bahia)
First of all, our technical skills are a means to an end. Late Interactive projects first and foremost require a great deal of design and planning in order to ultimately look good. While the technological aspect might be very salient in our work, I believe our combined creativity is Late Interactive’s best quality.

As a general rule, I usually take care of the hardware aspect while Toni does most of the coding. But that division isn’t even so clear cut. Toni studied interactive media and I studied psychology. He’s a wizard when it comes to creative coding, generative and audio reactive visuals, design and interactive media. I do some programming myself but I’m more focused on the physical builds, intelligent lights and LEDs, electronics and a whole lot of soldering.

Coding and electronics are perhaps two of the most intimidating things to look at, even for us. Our most important skill is being able to approach every project with an open mind and be willing to learn something new from it.

What were some of the most memorable projects and events that you formed part of, and how do you think they brought out the best in what you do?

Science in the City was definitely one of our 2016 highlights. Seeing people of all ages interacting and being amazed at our work was very rewarding. Interactive art was barely explored locally before then and seeing it be so well received was encouraging, to say the least. 

But I think the moment we really knew we were onto something was during the legendary Pudina tal-Milied yearly event last Christmas. We set up a 1,000 LED installation covering Liquid Club’s ceiling. Seeing a 700-strong crowd staring at your work with such a sense of wonder was the point at which we were convinced we should dedicate more time to this collaboration.

I think what made Pudina special was that it highlighted our need as artists to entertain. We don’t want to create art that is locked off in a gallery but rather work that catches people off guard and instils a sense of awe.

We kept on pursuing that ideal with our stage and light designs for Brikkuni and Plato’s Dream Machine. I think these two projects in particular highlighted our lighting design skills more than any other event. Especially the Brikkuni event, since it showed people that we’re not just about flashing colours.

Lighting by Late Interactive at a concert by Plato’s Dream Machine (Photo: Chris Vella)
Lighting by Late Interactive at a concert by Plato’s Dream Machine (Photo: Chris Vella)
Could you tell us a little bit about IDDI? What do you think is exciting about this particular project?

IDDI is an interactive installation which will see the stairs facing Parliament be transformed completely by a ceiling of LED tubes. These lights will be controlled by a position tracking system by which people walking, running or dancing under the lights can have the lights follow them and thus change the way the installation looks depending on their presence beneath it. 

What is exciting about a piece like this is that we do 90% of the work but the installation is only complete when people start interacting with it. Although we have a clear idea of what the installation will do, we don’t really know how the installation will look and how people will interact with it until they do. We do our homework and after that, it’s in the lap of the gods. That’s very exciting for us... and scary.

What are some of the challenges of being a creative entrepreneur in Malta?

There are several answers to this question. The usual suspects are that we’re a small country, there isn’t enough work to go around all the artists in Malta, creatives are treated as hobbyists, being offered exposure as a form of payment.

But I think what irks us the most is a certain apathy when it comes to raising production value. A lot of event organisers don’t realise that production value is something you have to invest in and that it’s actually good for business to have an event that looks good even though it might cost you a bit in the short term. In our case, it’s a matter of organisers being willing to splurge on renting lighting equipment but not taking that extra step to get a lighting designer to make it all look good.

However things are definitely getting better. If you do good work, there will be a demand for it and for the most part, our work is very well appreciated.

There is also the challenge of keeping things fresh. It’s very easy for us with our limited resources to fall into the trap of creating cookie-cutter light shows. Due to Malta’s small size, a lot of people will get to see Late Interactive’s work more than once and we need to make sure that we offer completely different experiences even if we’re using the same equipment across shows.

What’s next for you?

IDDI at the Malta International Arts Festival is up next. After that we have a couple of stage and light designs for local bands Brodu and Relikc in July. Then in September we’re creating two stage designs for Glitch Festival and we’re launching a new installation called Light Pushes Stuff for Science in the City which is part-funded by the Malta Arts Fund. We’re very excited about this since it will be our biggest project yet, by far. After that, we hope to move onto new forms of interactive art, collaborate with artists and scientists and create work that puts us on an international platform.

IDDI will be on display until July 16 at the steps near City Gate, Valletta from 19:00 to 23:00 each day. For more information on Late Interactive, log on to: www.lateinteractive.com

teodor_reljic
Teodor Reljic is MaltaToday's culture editor and film critic. He joined t...
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