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Mark Fisher - December 2005 - Brain Damage exclusive Print E-mail
 

Mark Fisher
Mark Fisher
It is with grateful thanks to our friend, Chris Diemoz, that we can exclusively bring you this new interview with Mark Fisher. Mark is possibly the greatest, and certainly best known, stage designers, with examples of his work seen by millions of concert goers over the years.


Mark Fisher, master of emotions
A conversation with world’s best known stage designer

Don’t let British stage designer Mark Fisher fool you. Behind that self-controlled and calm voice there’s a man able to go past every mind barrier when it comes to build a live set. That explains not only why he’s the first choice for the biggest bands in show business (Pink Floyd since 1977, and Rolling Stones since 1989 are just two examples), but also gives a reason for his involvement in wide scale events, like the opening ceremony of next Olympic games, to be held in Turin (Italy).

Talking with him has been a really instructive experience, as he’s better than most in demonstrating how the simplest things to do are probably the most difficult results to achieve. A philosophy that goes hand by hand with the secret of success in rock, turning Mark into a real master of emotions.

I’d like to start with your next achievement, and that will be Turin 2006 Olympics games opening ceremony. What, exactly, will you be in charge of?

Well, I really worked on the design of the show in the stadium, so... you know... the architecture, the staging of the show.

Just the opening, not the closing of the games as well?

No, I’m doing the closing of the Para-Olympics too, but the opening is the main.

I know it’s not the first time you've deal with sports (you’ve done three NFL Superbowl intermissions), but I was wondering if it’s your first remarkable work for an Italian event.

It’s the first time I worked on a show specifically in Italy, yes.

How did you get in touch with the Turin games organization?

Well, I was invited by the organizers to get involved with them in the creation of the show, when they were putting their bit together.

How many times have you visited Turin to take a good look at the stadium where the ceremony is taking place?

Oh, I can’t remember now, but many, many times and the first time I went there it was... Well, it was when we were putting the bit together, so it must have been in 2003, I think.

What inspired you for this project?

I think, probably, there was a lot of different things that we have been talking about in the team, for creating something which is dynamic, passionate and energetic and seems to have qualities that we thought were important to show Italy off to the world.

What’s the difference between an event like this one, and a rock happening, like the ones you usually take care of? And I mean that also from a technical point of view.

Artistically, the biggest difference is that in a rock show you have artists who are the focus of the attention and anything that is done in the background... Creating a stage set is really creating a background for an artist to perform in front of, whereas in a show like this we’re working very much with performers who are going to use the architecture to do things with. It’s really different.

Let’s switch now to your latest creation: the “A Bigger Bang” stage, for the Rolling Stones. How did the idea of the onstage seating take place?

That came out of conversations between the band and myself. The band... Mick and Charlie, really.

Has it been difficult to develop a stage starting from that idea?

No, not especially. Technically it was difficult, because we had to make it safe for the public. It requires much more security than the band usually has.

You mentioned some input from Charlie. Production notes do say that he’s been involved in the design. Can I ask you what his contribution referred to?

Well, it’s really referring to the fact I had a lot of meetings with them. A sort of a team. In the same way I’m working for the Italian ceremony, I worked with Mick and Charlie.

This is, I’d say, the biggest stage ever built for rock. Can things go further in the future, or are we close to the limit, for a stadium show?

I think we’re probably quite close to a limit [laughs]

It looks like a block of flats...

Yeah, [laughs] we’re probably close...

Is it logical to think that the stage will need to be re-designed for the European leg of the tour, like it happened in 1990?

No.

Will it fit in the European stadiums?

Yes. The reason why they re-designed in 1990 is because they thought they could save some money...

...On transportation and logistics?

Yeah, it had nothing to do with the technical side of it.

Let’s make a step back. In the DVD Four Flicks we can see Mick Jagger examining the stage before going on tour. Usually, where do you start to project such a work? Do you meet the artist? Do you listen to the music that the tour will promote?

Well, I’m quite familiar with the music in the case of bands like the Stones, because I enjoy their work, and listen to them quite a lot. With the new artists, I will listen to their music and then it’s conversations with the band, really. That’s what I do. I talk to the artist about what he’s trying to do.

The Stones always had big stages, but really of a classic conception, with not that many effects. What led them to the evolution you brought in 1989 for Steel Wheels?

Well, they were looking for ideas and we met and I showed them mine, which they liked and that’s how it began for me with them.

For tours like “Licks”, with different stages and venues, are you for common elements between the various sets, or do you prefer to conceive them separately?

Technically, they tend to be the same, as much as possible, because that saves money. And artistically, well it depends. Licks, we were working with very similar ideas. On Bigger Bang we consciously made the arena show, which I don’t think anyone in Europe will see, ‘cos we’re not planning to do it, very different from the stadium one.

U2 are another band you worked with a lot. How much do you believe the stages you designed for them from 1992 onwards plugged their image of worldly successful and megalomaniac band?

I don’t actually think that the audience is really that much tied to the stage design...

You think they’re mostly into the music of the band?

Yeah, there are certainly some fans that, in the case of U2, were a little bit concerned about where they were going when they did Popmart, for example.

That was really pushed to another level, even on a concept side...

Yeah, but you know... I don’t think those things matter very much. I don’t think people really hold their focus on it.

Pink Floyd, now. How long did it take to create the set for The Wall?

I think we started working on it in October [1979] and the first shows were in February [1980].

In 1981, only four cities featured that show. Today, had it to be performed again, what would change?

There was no reason why they restricted it. They were concerned about the cost of touring, but, in the end, that was a bit of a mess, because they could have sold as many tickets as they wanted to, for as much money as they could or want, you know... The reason why they stopped touring has a lot to do with personal issues, and not an awful lot to do with the technical side. It was a convenient excuse [laughs].

What has been your first inspirational source for the Division Bell and did the absence of Roger conditioned you in some way?

Well, it was very different, because Roger was not there and the work was done largely with Mark Brickman, who was the lightning designer. We worked to create the show together.

About The Division Bell, a great fan curiosity is still alive. Can, eleven years later, something be told about the Publius enigma?

Oh, I don’t know [long pause, then laughs]

Rumours are spreading about your involvement in the Broadway staging of The Wall. Is that true?

No.

Should you imagine a stage for the Floyd/Roger comeback tour, what would you think about? Would you like to revisit some images from their past, or create something totally new?

I think it would be important to create something totally new.

In general terms, what’s been the hardest project to realize, in your career?

Well, I suppose the biggest one would have been the Cirque du Soleil show “KA’”, in terms of scale and investment. It was much bigger than any rock show, much bigger than Turin. It was huge!

What’s your dream that still hasn’t turned into reality?

I think really the next project I do is always the most interesting one, so I’m not really worried.

During your career, how much help have experiences from the early days been, like the ones with inflatables, for the Rocky Horror Picture Show, or for the “Animals” Floyd tour?

They were very instrumental, and helped me to learn what I was doing and everything... So, I’d say very instrumental.

Had you, in the past, ever had to drop a project, due to insufficient technical resources to realize it?

No, I think it often had more to do with money or time. I mean, what is done in rock’n’roll is not technically very demanding. You know, compared to a lot of things that go on in the high-tech world, or compared to put a man on the moon, which is another silly observation, but... you know, what we do is really very simple, and most of the technologies we use would have been familiar to people in the nineteenth century, except the computer parts. But, you know, that’s engineering. Building a stage has nothing to do with [computers].

Beside the difficulties in designing such wide structures, how hard is it to match sizes with needs related to transportation and building of a stage?

It’s not really very difficult today, because people have so much experience of it. It would be true to say that there was a time when everyone was learning how to do it. That’s long gone now.

How much do you care, while designing a stadium set, for elements like the position of light towers and mixing board, as matters that will influence the audience visual field?

Oh, a lot! And in fact, in years I’ve been responsible for making a lot of changes to the way that’s done. With that sort of fall-out spots that we use on U2 and Rolling Stones now, which I originally designed for Babylon back in 1997, with very slanted towers and things like that...

I’ve read on your site you’ll work for Italian singer Eros Ramazzotti. How did you get in touch with him?

Oh, he got in touch with me, and we had a couple meetings in Milan, in the past few months, and we’re working together on a show, for his next tour.

He’s not known for such visual stages. Are you going to change his game?

Not that much. We’re looking to create something interesting, and that the audience will appreciate, but it still will be Eros on stage.

A final one. What will mark the future of live shows: always more effects, or a return to the roots?

I think people go to live shows because, in the end, they want to experience the performance by the artist and that has to be. The thing that will always separate going to a show and buying a DVD is the tribal atmosphere of the concert, and that’s why people go to concerts. That’s not about to change. It has always been that way.

Interview © Christian Diemoz and used strictly with permission.

 
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