The Story Behind Phish’s Magnaball Drive-In Cinema

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One of the signature features of Phish Magnaball Festival, which took place August 21 – 23 at Watkins Glen International race track in Watkins Glen, New York, was a drive-in cinema created expressly for the event. Moment Factory, the Montreal-based team behind the cinema, have detailed what went into the creation and running of the cinema for a new blog post.

In the bi-lingual post, Moment Factory explains the concept behind the cinema, “Our team took its cue from the sense of play Phish brings to everything. A drive-in cinema is lively and fun at night, odd and strangely compelling in the day. We turned the bleachers at the International Racetrack in Watkins Glen, New York, into a 140 foot-long projection screen. A number of silver-painted cars added a sculptural element and lighting design completed the installation.” The company details what was asked of them,” After the band’s sets on the main stage, the screen became the centerpiece of live DJ/VJ sets. Moment Factory’s VJs manipulated visuals in real-time generative sets–something that would have been impossible just a few years ago– creating ambient, animated content and trippy music.” Moment Factory picked movies to screen to “appeal to the crowd’s quirky aesthetic.”

Moment Factory was tasked with creating enough content to cover 40 hours of screen time, “Starting from enigmatic themes like ‘space opera,’ ‘mad science’ and ‘crypto- biology,’ Moment Factory created custom video and stills, added generative content and blended it in our VJ software and stirred Phish poster art into the mix. This expanse of visual territory ensured a different show for every night.”

Of course the drive-in will be best remember for the “secret set” Phish played late night on Saturday. Here’s what the Moment Factory’s team had to say about what went down:

The secret show was a freestyle experiment with Moment Factory playing visual counterpoint to Phish’s jam-oriented music. But the multi-platform playback system and large format demanded structure and planning, so the team devised a skeleton on which to hang a generative, interactive improvisational performance.

The band played behind the screen and was projected into the visuals as abstracted representations, letting us feel their presence without putting them on display. The bleachers showed through in spots, adding physical depth. At two key moments, the projected sun and moon lit up the scene, revealing Phish.

The most exciting aspect of Magnaball 2015 was bringing to the table this on-scene imaginative flexibility. The result was a two-way musical/visual collaboration with a group of legendary improvisers.

Both Phish and Moment Factory should be applauded for thinking outside the box. Over two months later, Magnaball and the drive-in still resonate with fans.