One year ago, I posted an article called “A New Liturgy” describing the beginnings of my journey as an “evangelical” on the road to more liturgical, ancient expressions of worship. The post was part of a “blog tour” promoting Aaron Niequist’s new EP series. These EPs are 25-minute journeys of worship, prayer and meditation. “A worship experience for people who don’t always connect with ‘worship music.’ A moveable sanctuary. A sonic tabernacle. A New Liturgy.”
This past Autumn, Aaron released his 4th neo-liturgical EP, which was focused on CREATION. I loved the past projects, but #4: CREATION struck me in a completely different (and visual) way. As you can imagine, these songs, prayers & readings were saturated with rich, beautiful word-images.
I let Aaron know this and that it would be a dream of mine to VJ this project in a live setting.
A few weeks later, I was on a plane to Chicago where Aaron’s church, Willow Creek, is located.
This video is a result of our collaboration that beautiful fall weekend. (watch fullscreen!)
A Creation Reading… For the Beauty of the Earth… Do It Again… Enchanted… Psalm 8… Knows My Name… This Is My Father’s World.
This was truly one of the highlights of 2012 for me. Aaron & I hope to recreate this experience in a few other live settings sometime this year. =)
I love and respect Aaron even more so after going through this collaboration process. And I have to say the same about Willow Creek (I had never been to a worship gathering there before.) The entire team’s attitude was really refreshing. They are able to harmonize excellence and relaxation very well. They have a lot of moving pieces holding that big ship together, but no one seems to be stressed out about anything. It was a very pleasant & fun experience!
A Few Thoughts on Neo-Liturgical Worship
What I love about this experience is that it takes you on a journey. Each element is intentionally connected. One moment leads you to the next one. A story is unfolding right before your very eyes. In a world of Sunday “set-lists” that mimic a top 20 radio, this is a breath of fresh air. It’s like listening to your favorite band on vinyl all the way through instead of consuming disconnected singles one-by-one on Spotify.
What creates this journey is not so much the songs you sing or the style of music you’re playing, but the form in which it comes in. It’s not what you are singing, but how you are singing it… and of course, WHY. The same goes for the visuals used.
Thoughts on Visual Liturgy
That same weekend, I was tweeted a question that went something like this: “What visuals do you use for liturgies?” … or “What makes a visual liturgical or not?” I used to answer this question by saying if the image looked or felt a certain way. I would use descriptors like “sacred, ancient, dark, reflective.” But if you watch this video, you won’t see hardly any of that.
What is true for the musical will always be true for the visual. It’s not what you are using, but how you are using it. The point is to tell a story and to connect one image to the next, forming a narrative arc. The narrative in this situation is God’s glory & beauty manifesting throughout His creation and who we are in light of this great mystery. We are like Bastian in the Neverending Story… minus Arteyu’s horse Artax dying in the Swamp of Sadness.
All that to say, I used some of the same visuals that I would use anywhere…it’s just that they were more connected and intentional than ever. The visuals and music of this liturgy danced this together.
The Tech Specs
Because I know so many of you will be interested in the technical aspects of this project, here’s the breakdown.
The posted video itself is a PiP (Picture-in-Picture) of two live video feeds. One being a fixed wide-shot that shows the entire video wall hanging above the band. The lower shot is the “IMAG” feed, which captured close-ups of the band and singers. This IMAG feed was used for the online stream and was recorded for archival purposes. (thank you, Jesus!) At times, you will see the IMAG feed go black during the readings; this is to reduce visual redundancy of text, hopefully making this online viewing experience cleaner and simpler.
Willow Creek has two large LED video screens (on motors) hanging to the left and right of the stage. These are their main screens for lyrics, IMAG, playback, message points, etc. For this weekend, they merged the two screens to create a panoramic video wall. (you might see the little line in the middle of the screen)
I VJ’d using ProVideoPlayer (ProPresenter’s big older brother) off of my 15″ MacBook Pro w/ Retina Display (mmm). Because of Willow’s amazing video capabilities (please, don’t ask…i have no idea…. i think it was a Spyder something or other)… anyways, i didn’t need to use a Triple/DualHead2Go…but i still treated PVP like I did, toggling the TILING option on and off. This gives me the flexibility to move fluidly between single-wide and triple-wide imagery. And because each LED screen was 16×9, I could get away with using triple-wide media without it stretching or squishing too much. The overall display resolution was 2560 x 720.
Willow’s media team ran all lyrics and text for readings via ProPresenter, and the text was simply keyed over the visuals.
It’s also worth noting that the audio was multi-track recorded and mixed in post-production. So what you are hearing is better than just the final mix from the board from that weekend. This truly is a “live” project in every sense.
To learn more about Aaron’s “New Liturgy” projects, check out his site: ANewLiturgy.com
And to read more about this neo-liturgical convergence of music, visuals & form, read this post.
Thanks for letting me share our art with you! We hope it compels you to get lost in the mystery of the Creator, Magician & Storyteller of this wonderfully complex and ever-growing world we are invited to live in!
UPDATE: Aaron & I were invited to join Mike Sessler & Van Metschke on an episode of “Church Tech Weekly” to talk about this project and our thoughts on liturgical worship in modern settings. CLICK HERE to go listen to that conversation.