From The Lay of the Land, Spring 2009:
The Center For Land Use Interpretation staged an event on the waterways of Houston in late March, 2009, a public spectacle that made connections between the founding of Houston, its emergence as a global city, and the celebration of the sesquicentennial of the oil industry. This commemorative event commemorated commemoration, a spectacle celebrating celebration and spectacle.
The event was driven by a multimedia performance that re-examined a 1986 concert commemorating the sesquicentennial of the city’s founding in 1836. The 1986 event, titled Rendez-vous Houston, centered around a synthesizer-oriented performance by French musician Jean Michel Jarre which was one of the largest concert spectacles ever produced at the time.
In the Center’s “respectacle” event in March, Jean Michel Jarre’s performance was deconstructed by multimedia artist/musician Jesse Stiles, and staged on a floating plastic platform designed by the group Simparch. Titled Déjà Rendez-vous, the CLUI spectacle fused the founding of Houston and the Republic of Texas (1836), and the current sesquicentennial (1859 - 2009) of the oil industry, through the laser guided lens of Jarre’s concert event.
Jarre was known for his global son et lumière spectacles, as well as his soaring synth music, found on successfully selling albums such as Oxygen (1976), and Zoolook (1984). His performances included use of the laser harp, musical laser beams that fan out over the audience and are plucked like the strings of a harp. He performed cascading glissandos on custom-made circular keyboards, lit from within, while lasers and lights danced in monumental amounts of wind driven smoke. His Houston performance took place outdoors, on a stage near the Buffalo Bayou, and engaged the skyscrapers of downtown as a backdrop. Texaco’s headquarters was covered with a screen onto which images of Texas were projected. Several other corporate oil building’s tops spewed fireworks, like crude gushing out of a wild well. Jarre’s show was witnessed by over a million people, listening over speakers and on the radio. Many watched from freeway overpasses, which were closed to traffic for the event.
For the CLUI event, no freeways were closed. Though the city’s downtown was also visible, it was distant, as the event took place on the other side of town, on the industrial end of the Bayou. The performance platform, created by the build/design team Simparch, was assembled over the weeks prior to the event. It was a fully self-contained eventspace, with a large screen for rear screen projection for an audience on shore. As the time for the performance approached, the platform was propelled up the Bayou by an outboard engine, and positioned in place, facing the audience that had amassed in Tony Marron Park. As darkness fell, the respectacle began.
Using a five-channel array of video projections, monitors, and loudspeakers, Jesse Stiles’ performance kaleidoscopically dissected, re-assembled, and spatialized grains of footage from the 1986 event, investigating the augmentation and removal of original time, and creating new patterns of movement and rhythm by re-arranging those moments across the multiple channels of the performance space.
It operated in a sense like a reactor, converting the ecstatic synthetic gloss of Jean Michel’s original show into a new, refined product of pure pixel notion and light. It distilled the essence of pure commemoration, fusing the layers of 1836, 1986, and 2009, in the plasma of spectacle. Historical carbon catalytically cracked into an event that apogeed with a burst of fireworks, then dissipated, wafting away like smoke, remaining only as memory.