Deconstructing Jonathan Glazer and J. Spaceman's Coachella Installation: Meet Undisclosable

Julia Kaganskiy April 12, 2011

One of the installations we’re bringing to the Coachella grounds this year is a monumental collaboration between J. Spaceman of the beloved “space rock” band Spiritualized and acclaimed UK-based filmmaker Jonathan Glazer. The impressively complex sound and light installation brings together many creative talents including Glazer, Spaceman, One of Us, Juliette Larthe and Undisclosable, to deconstruct and spatially “remix” Spiritualized’s most famous track, “Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space,” translating the musical experience into a uniquely physical one.

A critical component of the project is the design of the structure and environment itself—the installation calls for a space that is light proof and sound proof, which amounts to no mean feat when you’re located in a desert in the middle of a music festival. We called upon the expertise of emerging LA-based design practice, Undisclosable, co-founded by Bryan Flaig and Alejandra Lillo formerly of Graft, to tackle this challenge. After having spent nearly a decade as the cornerstones of Graft LA, the duo decided to break out on their own to pursue new markets and projects. Having launched their new practice this past February, this Coachella installation will be one of their first completed projects as a new design firm.

Flaig and Lillo took a break from the installation process, which is already well under way out in Coachella, to answer a few of our questions.

The Creators Project: Since this installation is one of the first projects you’ve worked on as Undisclosable, what was your reaction when we approached you?
First reaction was, “Wow, that’d be extremely cool and probably a ton of fun.” Then when it was formalized and we found out that this was a go, we looked at our watches and thought “Oh, hey, there’s not a lot of time.” We started out by watching a lot of Jon Glazer’s work and listening to a lot of Spiritualized to get into the right headspace. Then we just kicked into design and moved fast.

There was a lot of back and forth initially. In addition to square footage and other technical requirements, some of the drivers that we received were that it should be cathedral-like and reminiscent of daylight pouring through Grand Central Station’s windows. As discussions progressed, the work gravitated towards becoming an ‘alien cathedral pregnant with light,’ as Glazer aptly put it. I think a lot of it also has to do with dematerialization within the architecture because most of it is geared towards supporting this immersive experience that Glazer and Spiritualized created. I think what makes it a little more architectural than a traditional art installation are the multiple necessary layers to acoustically separate the sound and, during the daytime, provide the adequate amount of darkness for the project.

How did you go about conceiving of the structure that you ended up with? What kind of mood were you trying to evoke?
Alejandra: A lot of our focus was really trying to abstract the interior space as much as possible. Really thinking about “Ladies and Gentlemen, We Are Floating In Space,” and how can we pull the occupants away from a tactile perspective. We wanted to really make it as invisible as possible so the experience would be driven by the light and sound once you’re in the installation. From the exterior of the installation, we really wanted it to be something of a beacon, for people to look at it and not be certain what it is, but at the same time, also be evocative of the color, scale, shape, and height of a cathedral, and yet, in the simplicity of its materials, completely abstract it down to a sort of elegant torque. [We needed the structure to have] enough layers of skin that would not only form the way that it provides light and sound attenuation, but also create enough of a transition coming from this outdoor, 3D, loud, vibrant environment. You’re sort of taken through layers of transitions until you’re in a darkened and completely controlled acoustical space that really allows the technology of the speakers and of the light to perform the way that Jon Glazer and Spiritualized conceived of it.

Bryan: I think one of the other important things for us was separating the cause as much as possible from the effect. For instance, all of the rigging and design that One of Us [a creative and technical partner] did with Jon Glazer, a lot of it was about masking the sources and not showing how the magic trick is done. The sensibility is that the effect will be much more powerful the more separated it is from its cause

What was the collaborative process like working with all these different partners?
It was awesome. I mean, obviously it was very fast-paced, things were changing and are changing, I think, until the last second due to the compressed timeline. There are so many creatives on this project but I think the sensibilities are all roughly in the same place, which is great, and rare, and something that I know we appreciate quite a bit.

How’s the the installation coming along?
As of last night our IntelliDiscs were rigged, all of our molding has been rigged, our primary structure’s up, our secondary structure’s up and today we are skinning the alien beast. And we’re testing some of the lights and sound.

How do you feel now that you’re seeing the whole thing come together for the first time?
It’s really big. I mean, REALLY big. I think that’s been everyone’s impression of it because you’re used to seeing sound stages or spaces that are half open. And when you’re talking about a 30ft or 60ft height, it feels very impressive, but the openness kind of no longer has it feel like an object. As soon as you put skins on it and close the thing, it starts to behave much more like architecture, more like a building, and at that point you realize, “Oh wow, that’s a three-story building.” That’s been amazing. It’s been super fast-paced but I think it’s going to look great. It’s a super ambitious build for a nine day build, it’s bordering on absolutely insane, but it’s so cool to see it come together, so we’re thrilled.

As a new design practice, what would you say distinguishes you in your approach?
Bryan and I were cornerstones of the Graft LA office for a long time so it’s fairly clear that was a very formative experience for us. You’ll probably see some similarities in the future; however, change, evolution, is inevitable.

What makes us different has a lot to do with our approach. When we look at what the needs of architecture are at the moment, our personal perspective is kind of pushing back a little bit on the “starchitect” model of authorship in the sense that we feel that often times the creative process is a very private thing and we find it incredibly interesting in those moments. I think in a lot of ways the process of coming up with the name Undisclosable is saying, we’re more interested in the work and what the clients want to present to the world than our brand. For that reason, it enables the possibility of collaboration with a lot of creatives because we’re kind of pushing back on the “starchitect” model of “this is the brand of the building, and the brand of the author, and that trumps everything.” We don’t believe that anymore, We don’t believe that’s what architecture is about. It needs to serve more than itself. I hope you’ll start to see that more and more. Companies like IDEO are incredible to us because they’re really focused on the client, and harnessing the desires, the aesthetics, the voice of that client, and giving it a platform, and allowing it to express itself within the tools where we have.

Sounds like that mentality makes you guys a perfect partner for a collaborative project like this one, which has so many creatives adding their voices into the mix.
It’s how we want to live our lives, you know what I mean? The ego driving the train is really an annoying thing to have to contend with all the time and hopefully we can change that.

Installation images courtesy of Jared Diganci.


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