“If you start to feel nauseous, just close your eyes—that usually does the trick,” says Nick Jarvis, Clark Planetarium projectionist. “Just don’t hurl in the dome.” Wait, what the hell did I sign up for?
I’m fidgeting in my seat as the lights go down on a handful of folks for a special screening of The Atomic Clock. But as soon as the opening bars of “The Sun” play and the accompanying cosmic light show begins, I’m settled. Actually, I’m floored—even brought back to a high school obsession with Pink Floyd and, damn it, wishing that I were high.
I think that was my trepidation in checking out the original run of the cosmic laser show last November: chalking up these things as media for stoners. But as “The Sun” rolls into “Anxiety,” then “Chasing the Buddha”—the best progression of the show, in lyrics (which transition from the mystery of the cosmos to the gravity of human emotions to a personal spiritual quest), soundscape and eye candy—I understand how innovative this project is.
Clark Planetarium has hosted shows by classic rock artists like Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin for years, but it has never produced a light show for and with a local musician. The Atomic Clock is Brad Stock’s first professionally produced album, filled with phrasings similar to the aforementioned bands. This laser show is its companion.
The Atomic Clock is thematic, “but not on purpose. I didn’t set out to create a concept album”—it just happened that way, Stock says, adding that he sees the album as kind of like a Tarot card deck.
There are “cosmic bookends”—the first song, “The Sun,” and the final song, “The Moon”—with relatable material in the tunes between, which deal with “the tumultuous emotions of being a human: heartbreak, jealousy, rage, disappointment, coming from my personal interactions,” Stock says.
The idea of The Atomic Clock is another way of looking at our lives. “I think of it like we are all ticking time bombs. That clock is a reminder that we are mortal,” he says.
Matt Winegar, who produced the album, sums up Stock’s musical aesthetic: “[His] music combines several decades of musical influence. ... It’s so cool. It has the magic, and he understands the importance of leaving space in music.”
Perfect fodder for a cosmic light show, right?
After the album, more than two years in the making, was finished, Stock brought the idea of a light show to Clark’s management. Once the project was given the green light, Stock worked with projectionists Ted Newsome and, especially, Jarvis to mine Clark’s database of images and queue up the spacey visuals.
As I’m staring up at the dome, with nothing but lasers, projections and so on in my field of vision, I am thrown into Stock’s world. I would normally skip over banal songs like “It Blows” and “Caterpillar,” but thanks to Clark’s utilization of CGI animation with CPU-intensive, high-graphic images—not to mention the improvisation of the projectionists—I’m engrossed.
Throughout the 10 songs, all the way to “The Moon,” the projections and laser show reinforce the power of the music—and actually give it more pull—with images like an exploding star, or the album cover art rendered into a 3-D moon, flown through a star field.
By the end of the The Atomic Clock, I’ve lost track of time (that was only 53 minutes?), so mesmerizing was the the shimmering aural feast. And I’m utterly surprised—my happiest musical surprise of 2012.
THE ATOMIC CLOCK
110 S. 400 West
Through Jan. 17, days vary, 8 p.m.