If you’ve been to a concert prior to the EDM takeover, you’d remember that visuals were not a very significant part of performances. Since the boom of electronic music, artistic components have been added to live shows to enhance the viewer’s experience. Some performers have trippy visuals that pair well with their music, others have intricate lighting that bounces to the drops of the song. Either way, these artistic elements are designed to enhance a concertgoer’s experience, to create a performance different from any other experienced before. These creative efforts don’t go unappreciated, but few wonder about the talent. Their primary focus is on the people they paid [probably an obscene amount of] money to see and that’s what they remember the most.
A group whose live performance is both audibly and visually stunning is electronic duo ODESZA. Composed of Harrison Mills and Clayton Knight, ODESZA was created during their senior year at Western Washington University in 2012. Since then, the group has become widely popular in the electronic scene though they don’t quite classify as traditional EDM. Their performances consist of actual live music, not just half-assed button mashing, as well as incredibly striking visuals lit up on the screen behind them. Having seen them recently, I focused a lot on what was playing on the screens behind the two and felt that the creative directors behind the art weren’t credited enough. I was given the opportunity to interview Luke Tanaka, the creative and visuals director for ODESZA live. Luke explained that he oversees all the visual elements of the live performance including things like stage and video design, as well as lighting direction. He works closely with the group’s lighting designer Robert Fuller: “together we operate the lighting/video elements live during every show, which is a ton of fun in itself.”
So how exactly does one start a career in developing visual elements for live shows? Luke’s story is pretty unique; he went to graphic design school with Harrison Mills, who started ODESZA after graduating. When the group started touring, Harrison asked Luke, who was working at an advertising studio at the time, to come along and help add a visual element to the show. “I really had no idea what I was doing and completely winged it with a small projector and a copy of Resolume,” Luke recalls. At ODESZA’s show on May 13th, one of the visual effects Luke used reminded me of the character from the original Godzilla films. I asked about where he draws his inspiration and where he gets these clips, to which he responded, “I originally found the clips from Destroy All Monsters on Archive.org (a great resource for expired copyright films) during a college project.” Luke clarified that the clips used were of Gamera, “whose films are closely related to the Godzilla ones.” He chose to use these clips during the performance because “to [him], the thunderous bass sounded like a monster’s footsteps. It ended up working pretty well.” Earlier on in the interview, Luke talked about how the goal of his and Robert Fuller’s work was to “create an atmosphere that matches and enhances the music.” I followed up by asking how he thought the visual effects that accompany live music enhance the concert experience. Luke believes “anytime you stack sensory elements on top of each other, it exponentially pulls you into the experience,” which he demonstrates by his usage of Gamera clips to accompany the bass of the music. He brought up a really interesting and valid point by saying that “Sight and Sound work together in the same way as Taste and Scent.”
Having been a part of the close-knit crew of about seven people since the beginning, Luke’s life has changed significantly since ODESZA. The group is constantly touring and travelling around the world, only being given a few days at home every month. He doesn’t seem to be overwhelmed by all this; “being so involved in the project has evolved me both as an artist and professional and I think that’s been the biggest reason why I chose to continue down this path.” Not only that, but “the guys give me complete creative freedom and it’s really special to work in a an environment where we all have faith in each other’s abilities.” It is inspiring to see how ODESZA has allowed Luke to explore his creative capabilities through designing their live shows.
Luke uses his creative freedom in the most incredible ways and it is always exciting to see what he has to offer each time ODESZA has a live performance. For those of you who haven’t had the opportunity to witness Luke’s talent in person, you can follow him on Instagram (@japanesedad) to get a brief idea of why I’m so mesmerized by his work.
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