The best artists know that a gig isn’t just about what’s going on onstage. A performance is a layered experience that plays into all five senses. Artist and environmental designer Alex Gvojic understands that better than anybody and has taken that holistic approach to performance to astounding heights. We talked to him about telling stories through light, how film influenced his work, and why fog is his canvas of choice.
Spotify for Artists: How do you go about translating some of your expertise in building space with light and bringing mood to a narrative into a live experience?
Alex Gvojic: The first thing I try to think of every time I do a new live show is ask myself, what is the narrative? Anyone can go and throw a bunch of lights on stage and make a strobe and use the sensory overload stuff, but I want to think about what interests me especially coming from a film background. I can tell a story through lighting, and what I choose to reveal and not to reveal and how the whole entire performance can evolve and change like a narrative does. Cinematography is a lot of lighting, building the scene with only light, and starting with a completely black space. Then you choose what the light is going to be.
Sort of like how negative space is strategic.
Yeah, and another big part of that is atmospheric too. All of my work that I do is really heavy with fog and atmospheric elements because without having some haze or fog it’s like taking away a canvas away from a painter. You can't take fog away from a lighting technician, you know? They need to have their element to hit. They need to have control over what the viewer can and can't see.
How do you feel like technology has changed in the last few years? Are there any new kind of tools you’re stoked about?
Yeah I mean technology is crazy now. I know when I started doing this like ten years ago it was me going to Home Depot and like, building a dimmer board out of a bunch of house spinners and plug-in lights and manually playing it and now you have the option of just downloading all sorts of different programs and you can program all your life and communicate wirelessly. I was always lighting stuff with traditional theatrical lights using the lights that film sets would use because it would have a quality of light that LEDs just weren’t able to produce. But now all the LED technology has gotten so good. You can move a lot more towards using LED stuff and further away from using film stuff. You don’t have to have a billion different lights for each color you want. That has definitely changed the game a lot.
How do you incorporate stage visuals in terms of media to things? Are artists asking for that or do they come to you primarily for planning design? Are they also thinking about big digital displays?
It’s always hard with visuals because artists always want to use them. But I always want to use them as an addition to whatever set I'm building, as opposed to being the main star on stage with a giant screen. That always seemed very boring to me.
You’re building a physical world that people need to be engaged in.
The more and more I do this, the more important it is. The more that people are surrounded by screens all the time. Like, you throw something on the screen and people tune out within five seconds. If you put someone in an environment that’s wrapping around them in 360 degrees, they’re going to be immersed in an entire set. So, I feel like it’s really important for artists to kind of think about things in that context rather than thinking about them flat. I always like to think of a stage with foreground, middleground and background and about what’s going on around the audience and behind the audience. A band in front of something brings no depth and no environmental edge. It’s like you’re looking at another screen you know?
What’s the one thing that artists should think about before they go on tour?
I think the most important thing is the narrative. Think of your show, your set as the narrative. Where does it start? Where is the climax? What’s the resolution? Take something that you’re interested in and then try to apply a narrative to it that intertwines with your set. I feel like that can go a long way you know? You can use one element that’s constantly changing throughout the set. That can really just tell a story and change the entire standard.
—Spotify for Artists