Neurosonics Live

Neurosonics Live

Director Chris Cairns, turntablist JFB, drummer Will Clarke and prolific beatboxer Beardyman have teamed up to turn Cairns’ Neurosonics film — which features disembodied heads mounted on a selection of instruments — into a live performance that’s just as jaw-dropping as the original.

The director, who’s also behind the photomongtaging Land Rover Freelander advert and Radio 1’s “infectious radio” promo, originally created the Neurosonics Audiomedical Labs film back in 2009. It’s set in a lab, and depicts three scientists mounting a number of different heads onto turntables and drum sets before playing them like real instruments.

Musion uses its own home-grown “Eyeliner” projection technology to generate holograms that can appear alongside real people. A high-definition video projector mounted above the stage shines the content to be displayed onto a reflective surface, which then bounces up onto a nearly-transparent foil stretched across the stage. That’s what gives it the illusion of depth.

The physical principle behind the trick isn’t new — it was first demonstrated in the 1860s. Named Pepper’s Ghost, after inventor John Henry Pepper, the holographic illusion showed up in theatres in the West End in the 19th century, and was used to allow actors and objects to slowly materialize into a scene — leaving audiences open-mouthed.

Neurosonics Live from Chris Cairns on Vimeo.

However, a massive slab of glass at a 45-degree angle was required to create the reflection. Manufacturing such slabs was rather tricky, and the large, heavy pieces required to display a life-size actor would often break under their own weight. That put a dampener on the spread of the technique, and perspex and gauzes weren’t quite convincing enough to replace it when they arrived in the 20th century, thanks to join lines.

In Neurosonics Live (embedded below), the foil is stretched over where the instruments are, with projectors aimed down from above creating the heads. The instruments are linked to a computer hooked up to the projector, though, so when they’re manipulated, the image changes. That’s how the heads are able to spin at the same speed as the turntables and react to drum hits.