audiovisual laser performance [2013,2015,2017]

October 18 2013
Premiere of Lumière I
Unsound Festival
Krakow, Poland

February 19 2015
Premiere of Lumière II
Centre George Pompidou
Paris, France

February 16 2017
Premiere of Lumière III
Barbican Concert Hall
London, UK

Lumière III is the third iteration of a long-term audiovisual concert project featuring high precision lasers and multichannel sound. The project started in 2013, on the foundation of ideas and experiences derived from Robert Henke's first laser based installation, Fragile Territories, and his musical performances. It required the development of a unique software framework by the artist to control the lasers in sync with sonic events in a performative situation. The mutual influence of artistic desires and technical requirements led to a unique audiovisual language pushing the boundaries of what is possible within the medium.

Lumière III oscillates between two poles, the experience of the raw physicality and intensity of laser produced light and a playful and subtle narrative layer.

Photo above: Lumière II in Modena, Italy, 2016. Photos below from rehearsals of Lumière III, Berlin, January 2017. Photo in the History section from the premiere of Lumière I in Krakow, Poland, 2013 and from a Lumiere II show in Prague, 2015

The high contrast between the extremes of total darkness and blinding brightness tricks perception, creates 'negative objects' darker than black, controlled afterimages and a sense of spatiality that transcends from the projection screen. Fog is used to further enhance this effect by incorporating the space in between the lasers, mounted at different locations in the auditorium, and the projection screen. The result is a highly immersive and sculptural temporary architecture of light, combined with perfect synchronicity between sonic events and visual patterns, to merge both senses into one complete and inseparable experience.

Drawing shapes with lasers requires the precise and fast movement of small mirrors. This imposes severe limits on the achievable complexity. Lumière III embraces these properties with its minimalist approach. Visual richness is reached through the combination and rapid succession of simple shapes and by exploring the limitations and artefacts of the technology. The work plays with transformations of basic symbols; Combinations of circles, squares, lines, dots create a scenario that is both futuristic and archaic. Lumière III borrows from early computer games, using a similar drawing technique called 'vector graphics', it suggests user interfaces and data displays. Yet, it is unreadable. Sequences of icons seem to resemble text, but the message remains encrypted. Thus, its imagery and its sonic cues deliberately play with associations and context. Observers might experience alien insects, microscopic or giant moving structures, technical diagrams or floating three dimensional objects. But ultimately it is just - light.

Lumière I and II has been presented more than 50 times in Europe, Asia, Africa, Australia, North- and South America. The project has been staged in 16th-century theatres in Italy, in amazing concert halls all around the globe, in vast industrial spaces, and in the yard of a castle high up on a hill in Portugal. It has been acclaimed as a highlight of the most significant festivals for audio visual performance world wide, including CTM, MUTEK, STRP, Unsound, and many more.

The Lumière project has inspired countless people to explore lasers for artistic expression, drove the development of a custom laser system specially designed for its performance, and inspired the addition of vector graphics modules to a well known visual software package.

The ongoing refinement of the Lumière project would not be possible without the very generous support by LaserAnimation Sollinger, Berlin. [link


The initial version of Lumière was based on the idea of improvisation with simple audiovisual patterns. The experience of working with lasers for the Fragile Territories installation led to the conclusion that it would be a relatively easy task to create a technical setup suitable for concerts, too. The result was a system that could draw simple geometric shapes in real time. Sound was partially derived from the control signals to the lasers, creating a harsh but heavily synchronised sonic experience that in some cases did fit the visual results, and in some did contradict them in a not very convincing way. Additional percussive sounds served as counterpoint. The visual drawing complexity was relatively low and had arbitrary technical restrictions. The assumption that the complex task of performing an audiovisual show in realtime is a question of practise had to be revised after the first ten performances. Results were not satisfying enough, too little detail, and a perceived lack of composition. Lumière I had in its best moments the raw power of a typical early work, and in some parts the interplay between sound and vision created the desired immersive effect. What it lacked was overall shape and a sense of consistency and consequence. A decision had to be made, to either stop performing the piece, or to work on a new version with a different approach. The later idea won.

To achieve the desired advanced laser graphics, a complete rewrite of the laser graphics software was due. That took about six months in winter 2014/2015 and made it also necessary to re-create the performance from scratch since no old data could be used anymore. Also a dedicated sound synthesis engine was built. Afterwards a complete new show has been composed, in contrast to Lumière I based on a rigid score, with a lot of detail edits and movements. The resulting work was far more convincing and during the life span of Lumière II, three major additions and revisions have been made, some pieces were extended, others removed or redone. A technical improvement of the drawing algorithm made it possible to place the lasers at different positions in the room, and allowed to focus more on the beams and the connection between the laser sources and the stage. Also the laser units got an upgrade that made it possible to leave the white color space of the initial version and add the color red. Lumière I was all white with some rare parts in deep blue. Lumiere II kept most of the whiteness but had pieces with red elements and more subtle colours ranging from orange to violett. The use of fog became a more essential part of the work, cumulating in a final piece entirely based on obscuring the screen with a wall of thick haze.

The desire to create a third iteration came not so much from a perceived problem with the second one, but rather from an abundance of new ideas created during the performances and also from the urge to update the graphics software in such a way that it also could drive upcoming laser installations. The Fall installation presented in 2016 already made use of the new software, and the Spline installation in March 2017 will also rely on it, but requires again a detail improvement which has not been integrated yet. That technical aspect is essential as it provides the means to create both more complex concert works and more complex installations without the necessity to reinvent the wheel each time again. A desired goal for Lumière III was also to focus more on sound design. The sound engine got a major update therefore, too.

The complete software package that is now driving Lumière, both visually and for the sound became so complex that writing documentation about it became an essential part of the work. Lumière III will probably get some minor updates and changes after the initial series of performances and is planned to tour for 2017 - 2018.