Peter Gabriel, experience designer

Turning the ignored into art

If there is one rock musician who really understands theatrics, it is Peter Gabriel. Back in his Genesis days, he was one of the first to wear costumes and makeup on stage, and to really act the characters behind the songs.

After 40 years in the business, Gabriel remains innovative in presentation. Besides his groundbreaking multimedia work, his concerts are always worth watching. He’s uninterested in the lasers and huge lightshows of other musicians, and concentrates instead on dramatic theatrical effects, often using very simple technology in incredibly creative ways.

Watching (again) the dvd of his 2003 “Growing Up” tour, I was struck by how a simple decision to show hidden value can revolutionise an experience. On their gloomy circular stage, Gabriel and his musicians are dressed in sombre blacks. His crew of technicians, on the other hand, wear bright orange suits reminiscent of Asian monks.

Now, it’s an unwritten law in showbiz to hide the rude mechanicals in dark clothes. So much so, in fact, that they are traditionally called “blacks”. But Gabriel’s bold choice to highlight his stagehands pays off. Their complex sequence of technical duties seems almost balletic as they calmly move sets, carry camera cables and setup new instruments. Kneeling, turning, lifting, filming, they often look like martial artists performing a kata. Not only is it aesthetically pleasing to watch the patterns they form while working, we are also reminded of the complexity of their task, and thus of the whole tour’s production values.

It’s a great example of showing hidden values - we are subtly shown more of what we are getting for our money. And in this case the idea has two positive side effects - it makes the stage crew feel like valued stars rather than machinery, and it creates genuine beauty.

P.S. A Gabriel concert is a lesson in experience design in itself. He puts his stage in the middle of the arena, so everyone is near the front, and every audience member forms part of somebody else’s visual of the show. The lights are on the crowd almost as often as on the musicians, and the guys on stage are photographing each other - and the audience - for their own tour blogs. And although Peter wears a headset, he often has another mike in hand - for the audience. You do not watch a Gabriel concert, you are part of it.


Melissa said...

Wow. That sounds great. I remember him from back in the '80's. It sounds like you are very observant and can find something didactic in everything.

Andy Nulman said...

Adam, this has brought back a ton of memories. Your site whups, and you have officially become one of the "People I Dig" (not that it means that much, but hey, it's free).

Adam said...

Andy, I'm speechless. Thanks. It means a lot! If any of you have not yet discovered Andy's site... go NOW!

Just click on his name above.

Adam said...

Sorry, you'll need Andy's link.

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