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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

The problem(s) with Luminocity Atlanta's Hinterland

Posted By on Wed, Dec 15, 2010 at 6:51 PM

Higher! We still cant see you!
If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

The build-up to Luminocity Atlanta's Hinterland last month promised "a unique public spectacle and Atlanta’s only 360 degree Performance Art Light Experience." The sprawling cast of characters included gloATL dancers, acrobats, steampunks, BMX bikers, people on stilts — even Big Boi — all awash in a sea of light. The event even came with a trailer that teased Hinterland with the pounding intensity of a new Michael Bay flick.

Lauri Stallings and Big Boi reuniting after their kick-ass collabo on 2008's big? Big Boi performing tracks off his new album? gloATL's most sprawling work to date to open its second season? All for free?

We got excited. We showed up in droves — Luminocity estimates that 15,000-20,000 people were at Woodruff Park Nov. 27. They had our attention. We were ready to re-experience downtown. So, how was it? Well, I'd tell you if I could've seen anything. Or heard anything for that matter.

Ambition got the best of Hinterland, and Luminocity Atlanta fell short in its execution of the event. Bad sound and lack of visibility diluted an experience that had basically been sold as sensory overload. The event would likely have been much more successful if its organizers had done a few things insanely well rather than getting caught up in a series of forgettable distractions.

Much of the power of a gloATL performance comes from the synergy the dancers achieve with the audience — and proximity and visibility are key in accomplishing that. One should never expect to catch every single moment of a gloATL performance. In fact, there's a kind of fun in listening to and watching people anticipate the unknowns in Stallings’ choreography. But you lose the visceral and emotional satisfaction of the experience when you can't find a human to connect with.

A free mini-concert from Big Boi was arguably Hinterland’s biggest draw and, in many ways, its biggest disappointment. The sound system seemed to be relegated to the park’s western edge for the majority of the performance, and led to uneven sound quality. Being close to the speakers threw off the songs’ balance and made them sound tinny. Moving further into the park evened out the sound a bit and offered occasional glimpses of Big Boi, but the volume was so low it made it borderline impossible to determine what song he was performing. Could the music not be any louder because of some noise restrictions downtown? Was the huge crowd simply absorbing all of the sound?

I had a front row seat to his performance atop the fountain at the corner of Park Place and Auburn Avenue. I was 30 feet from him. Nothing was separating me and Big. Yet his performance was all but inaudible. The fact that he was lip-syncing, however, was made crystal clear. The whole thing was slightly surreal to watch up close — dancers miming movements to Big Boi's voiceless concert.

During the finale, the sound just plain got wonky. It seemed for a moment as though the track was skipping and then as if the volume was being fiddled with, the sound kind of rising and falling across the sky.

"Hey, they're trying, you know, they're trying," the guy next to me said to his disappointed girlfriend.

He was right. Luminocity, gloATL, Big Boi — they all made a valiant effort to bridge Atlanta's cultural divide and offer a lifeline to what was once considered the heart of the city. The timing was right — that tens of thousands of people showed up for the experience on the Saturday after Thanksgiving speaks volumes. Judging from the turnout, Atlantans want to be engaged; they want to be dazzled by a hometown hero and inspired by new, forward-thinking art. But Hinterland, for all of its big ideas and grand plans, fell short of its oversized ambitions.

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