A photon is a quantum of light or other electromagnetic radiation. It’s also the name of the hypnotic concept developed by German techno DJ Ben Klock to “combine sound, light and architecture into a whole new multi-sensory experience.”
Standing in the middle of the dancefloor amid 4,000 bobbing heads at the Photon showcase at Avant Gardner in New York is perhaps the best way to experience its power. Criss-crossing spotlights form stark parallelograms, octagons and triangles overhead that relate spatially to the venue’s layout – at times monochromatic, at times an overwhelming, disorientating pulse of colour. “Taking influence from the notion of a photon, the fundamental particle of visible light,” says Ben, “the idea involves geometric symmetry, simplicity of light design, and supporting the energy of a room.” But Photon also immerses you in darkness during the long continuum of track build-ups, sinking you deeper into rapport with the music. The lights tend to use just one primary color at a time, a carefully judged synaesthesia with the direction of the music. Despite the scale, the careful planning and the technology, the Photon show feels strangely intimate, especially when traces of faded light beams curl up and spiral around you, like the tail of a purring cat welcoming you home.
This intimacy, says Ben, is one of the main aims of Photon. “It’s also to take the focus little bit away from the stage and bring it back to the room, where the dancers are. In the end the people are the main factor of a party. I would like people to have a feeling that they experienced something real and deep, not just an audio-visual show.”
Photon debuted in 2017 at Printworks in London, and since then it’s continued to evolve – the current concept allows Klock to invite artists he admires to play with him at carefully selected locations. “I want to provide a space to have an amazing time,” says Ben; “for music lovers, for people who want to experience something beautiful together.”
Working within Ben’s direction of minimalism, Photon’s lighting designer and operator Lars Murasch bases the show on narrow light beams modelled in WYSIWYG, a 3D software program. The precise, higher intensity of narrow beam lamps allows for deep contrast capability and precise definition in the built shapes. An important requirement is the absence of the extraneous light that is usually present at many large-scale events, including from bars, merchandise stations and other light structures. “The level of darkness is a recurring negotiation,” says Lars. “Nowadays at big events, but also in many clubs, everything that is on the market in lighting technology is used, especially lasers and LEDs. That offers [people] visual entertainment, but it also leaves each DJ feeling emotionally random, and drowns every DJ or live act in a flood of visual highlights.” With Photon, less is more.
Ricardo Romaneiro, a classical composer, electronic artist and director of Subhaze in New York, remembers a Photon showcase at NYC’s Output. “I had a ‘moment’ at around three in the morning: the music was building, the light was suspended, it was cooking for a good twenty minutes. Once [Ben Klock] opened that musical gate, the flood of a full-range track dropped the second the strobe light-play infused the air. It was an audiovisual organism that elevated the entire vibe. There were moments where the light and sound would cross-pollinate, creating another sensory medium. It became the eye of the music.”
Extensive preparation takes place for each event, with most recent showcases planned for six months in advance. Ben is selective about the venues he chooses; the architecture has to work with the concept. Each show is unique to the chosen setting, but the spaces also need to have a unique feel – though the ideal venue is vast, industrial and with a definite focal point for playing with the light. Photon has been put together in seven countries so far, and four more are scheduled for this year, the next one a return to the Gashouder in Amsterdam for ADE.
A student of the techno aesthetic, Ben points out that Photon’s character is one that is simple and essential. “For me the basic idea of techno is always a minimalistic one. No frills, no adornment. Use a few elements and focus on them to achieve the maximum.” In any case, the inspiration behind the show isn’t visual, he explains. “[It’s the] music. When everything else falls apart, there’s always music: that intimate friend that always holds the right composition for every mood. Music is so direct. It can make you laugh or cry, and can bring back memories in an instant.”
Photon is at Gashouder for ADE on October 21