KEXP Turns on the Bright Lights

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Car Seat Headrest // photo by Amber Knecht

What do Regina Spektor, Los Campesinos, and Mark Eitzel have in common? All these artists have performed (or are soon to perform) in KEXP’s innovative Live Room.

On January 10th, Car Seat Headrest played the first public concert in the room to feature new state-of-the-art lighting. Seizing the moment, lead singer Will Toledo sang while twisting and turning amidst the twinkling bulbs.

Midday Show host Cheryl Waters beamed afterward while interviewing the band’s kinetic frontman. “Will, you were literally connecting the dots in our new light installation. Very interactive.” 

From the beginning, the new KEXP Live Room was designed as a unique performance space. The plan was to provide audiences a peek into a recording session, a far different experience than attending a show at a traditional venue. The viewing gallery keeps the sessions intimate for artists. On the other side of the glass, KEXP encourages bands to play to each other as if there were no live audience. The lights are central to the Live Room’s aesthetic.

Says KEXP’s Online Content Manager & Senior Video Producer Jim Beckmann, “We filmed a whole year of sessions in essentially a black box. It never really felt like a real place until we had the lights.” 

So how do they work?

The lighting installation in KEXP’s Live Room is comprised of approximately 2,000 individual multicolor LED lights on 180 strands. These lights surround the performance space. KEXP’s video production team controls the lighting with a Microsoft Surface Pro 4 tablet, using custom software designed specifically for the station.

There are also three Microsoft Kinect sensors in the lighting rig. These sensors allow bands, rappers, singer/songwriter, and DJs to interact and play with the lighting as they perform. They make each performance entirely unique, as an artist’s movements drive the motion of the lights.

Tay Sean // photo by Matthew B. Thompson

The station wanted to pay loving homage to the “twinkle lights” from the original KEXP live room while creating an immersive experience for the diverse range of acts that play KEXP.  Prior to a shoot, KEXP’s video production team dials in the look and feel of the light setup. Before going on the air, they take into account feedback from the band, equipment setup, even the color of an artist’s clothing.

Regina Spektor // photo by Matthew B. Thompson

As in the original studio, the new light installation is a work in progress; KEXP’s production team continually refines how the station uses the new technology.  "It took us a few years to develop what became an iconic look in our old studio,” says Beckmann. “With this new system, we’ll continue to experiment, but we’re now miles ahead and have a full palette to work with."

Microsoft knows the music matters and helped KEXP achieve this otherwise impossible vision. The Redmond-based technology giant worked with a number of artists championed by KEXP during their Music x Technology initiative. Some of those names include Childish Gambino, Matthew Dear, Phantogram, Neon Indian, Grimes, and Allen Stone.

Check out KEXP’s Live Performance list for upcoming In-Studio sessions. Many of these concerts are open to the public and they are always free.

Nail Polish // photo by Renata Steiner

Springtime Carnivore // photo by Matthew B. Thompson

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