Ultimate Thunder – The Tetley, Leeds

Audio/Visual Installation

Installation in the city workshop, The Tetley, Leeds.

Ultimate Thunder‘ is a musical audio/visual installation that was installed in The Tetley, Leeds in January 2020. The installation is part of Lumen’s ongoing research and development around creative application of digital technologies for immersive re-presentation of performance work, and is funded by Arts Council England and Leeds Inspired. The project was made in collaboration with Pyramid, artist Andrew Abbott and curator Yanni Ma.

Press release for the installation below, which outlines more about the project.

‘This installation re-presents a performance by ‘Ultimate Thunder’ – a Leeds-based band featuring six artists with learning disabilities and one without – at their Pyramid Of Arts base on a light industrial estate in Holbeck. They meet fortnightly and make very loud, semi-improvised rock.

The lives of people with physical and learning disabilities tend to be structured around the provision of support staff and transport, and are sometimes restricted by this provision. This lack of flexibility can often mean that they are unable to engage in the traditional band and gigging format. Usually, any change to their regular timetable of weekly activities needs to be agreed at least two months in advance if they are to be able to get the staffing support to make it happen. On this basis, the work of Ultimate Thunder does not get the audience that it easily could, in Leeds – a city where there is still an appetite for the kind of experimental, DIY, noisy music that they make. Their performances are in fact just rehearsals, within the four walls of Pyramid’s base, on a light industrial estate in Holbeck.

Sites like Pyramid’s base have been historically created by the transformation of day-care provision in the city. As local authorities shut their many day-care centres, they used the money saved to fund organisations to provide substitute activities. While this change has allowed for a much wider range of activities to be offered, it also means that light industrial estates like the one where Pyramid are based have replaced the day care centres of old, with the same issues of ghetto-isation and relative invisibility for the artists who perform there.

This installation, produced by Lumen Arts, allows the music of Ultimate Thunder to reach a wider audience, and also invites that audience to experience the kind of spaces where that work is produced – loud, warm, exciting, welcoming, inclusive music being created behind the closed doors of cold, utilitarian, concrete, practical spaces.

The Virtual Reality experience is a 360 degree video documenting a workshop led by Alan Courtis – an Argentinian artist and musician working with arts and disability – held at Pyramid of Arts in April 2019.

The installation is part of Lumen’s ongoing research and development around creative application of digital technologies for immersive re-presentation of performance work, with funds from Arts Council England and Leeds Inspired.’

Pyramid, Holbeck, Leeds.

Eighteen months ago, Lumen & Pyramid came up with an exciting way to re-present a musical performance using audio/visual equipment. The idea was to capture a groups performance using video and audio, and recreate it on different display formats and through different methods of sound reproduction, in order to create an immersive audio/visual installation.

The group we chose to work with, ‘Ultimate Thunder’, is composed of seven members – six with learning disabilities and one member. This was great for the band as they do not get out to gig very often and so this installation would act as a type of gig for them, with their performance being re-created through audio and video.

We thought of as many interesting ways as possible to recreate the video and audio of the band. Ideas of different monitors in different configurations, large projections, projections on different sorts of surfaces, VR headsets, wireless headphones and different types of speakers were all proposed for the installation. Then we set about to capture the bands performance in the spring of 2019. We setup in Pyramid of Arts space in Leeds, where the band rehearse regularly. We arranged many of their props and art in the space, setup lighting and used five different cameras to capture the video. The audio of each instrument was recorded in multitrack to go with each video of each band member.

Over the following months we started to compile the video footage to get a sense of what we would need to do to make it work well with our different screens. We choose one song out of six recorded to work with. The audio for that song was then mixed to sound like a powerful performance, whilst retaining a strong sense of the energy of a live performance. Matthew’s vocal performance was also sent through lots of different effects to add another layer of energy and act as a centre piece to the song.

The videos were then processed and edited – video cropping and the adding of effects, whilst making sure everything was kept in synchronisation. Each video was then exported of each performer with their individual track of audio embedded.

Brightsign media players were chosen for playback and were encoded and then extensively tested in the Lumen office with their respective display and audio speaker. For the singer Matthew, his video was split into there separate parts (head, torso and legs) and played back across three 21″ JVC CRT monitors, which were stacked on top of each other. His vocals then came out of a wedge speaker monitor on the floor in front and a smaller audio monitor on top of the CRT’s played back the effected vocals. The overall impression of it was really great, especially as the centrepiece to the installation. Individual sound systems were used for each intrumentalist to create ‘point source’ audio and each with their on video display system. So, the drummer was projected on a large 10 foot screen, making him and his drum kit life-sized, with the drum sound coming from a pair of full range speakers in stereo. The bass player’s video was projected onto the front of an Ampeg 8×10 speaker cabinet, with his sound coming out of the speaker cabinet itself. The guitar player was shown on a 50″ screen mounted in portrait, with his playing coming out of a Fender guitar combo amplifier. The percussionists were projected on a wall with their sound coming from the right side of the drummer speakers. And the keyboardist was displayed on a 42″ screen in landscape orientation with his sound coming from a small RCF speaker.

Lumen then installed the equipment in the City Workshop at The Tetley in Leeds. With all the videos in perfect synchronisation and the sound levels balanced with the space, the overall effect really was like a gig, with the sound coming from different locations, rather than simply out of a stereo pair of speakers and the visual elements coming from different locations and displays. Andrew Abbott also installed virtual reality headsets, which featured a 360 degree video documenting a workshop led by Alan Courtis – an Argentinian artist and musician working with arts and disability that was held at Pyramid of Arts in April 2019.

Young man enjoying Andrew Abbott’s virtual reality workshop.

We had the sound turned up quite loud for the private view. We got some excellent feedback and the band and their friends loved it.

Private view
Video of the installation

It was a very rewarding project to work upon and gave a lot of satisfaction to all of those involved. We would like to thank Arts Council England and Leeds Inspired for their help funding the project, the band themselves for creating a hugely inspiring and energetic piece of music, and The Tetley for hosting the exhbition and providing such a suitable platform to showcase the work.

A compiled ‘music video’ of the performance will be available to watch soon.

Ultimate Thunder are Alex Sykes on keyboards, James Heselwood on guitar, John Densley on percussion, John Greaves on bass, Matthew Watson on vocals, Stuart Illingsworth on percussion/harmonium and Scott Anderson on drums.

Installation by James Islip, Stuart Bannister, Joe Osborne, Kathryn Gray and Andrew Abbott. Video editing by James Islip, sound by Joe Osborne, VR by Andrew Abbott.