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Light shows at contemporary rock concerts generally create an immersive, multi-sensory experience. Their most sophisticated variants, however, provide a visual analysis of the music as it unfolds. This paper presents a case study of what I call the analytical light show, by examining how the intricate light shows of extreme metal band Meshuggah contribute an interpretive layer that not only promotes multi-sensory engagement, but also actively guides listeners through songs’ formal structures.
Meshuggah’s light shows, created by lighting designer Edvard Hansson, are exhaustively synchronized to the rhythmic patterns of the guitars and drums; meticulous use of color, brightness, directionality, placement pattern, and beam movement provide additional information about gesture, articulation, and pitch. These analytical light shows provide a three-dimensional visual score that dramatizes rhythms while guiding listeners through each riff. Through the lighting, spatial and bodily metaphors of musical movement—high and low, moving and holding still—are transmuted into visual representation. By presenting analysis and performance simultaneously and as each other, Meshuggah combines technical virtuosity with rock authenticity, and provides another example of what Lucas (2014) calls “coercive synesthesia,” as the lighting becomes an inextricable part of the musical experience. Beyond the confines of metal culture, I study the analytical light show as an expression of vernacular musical analysis that combines specific analytical and technical expertise with the intuitive, embodied knowledge that experienced music listeners possess.
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