It seems like ages since the bass drop was the electronic music festival pleaser du jour, and boy did we miss it. Thankfully, in the new video for UK bass duo The Prototypes’ “Transmission,” director Bob Partington reimagines the drop getting transformed into various experimental visuals that blend colors, fluids, and sound waves in ways that recall Joey Shanks’ DIY visual effects work and resonance-triggered Chladni sand patterns.
“The bass drop is the most creatively expressive part of dance music and we wanted to see what we could make with it,” Partington tells The Creators Project. “So the idea of trying to create a visual that can capture a similar feeling, that has been the challenge.”
With “Transmission,” Partington, who previously co-directed OK Go's "The Writing's on the Wall" with Aaron Duffy and the band's Damian Kulash, Jr., wanted to do something that had never been done before—at least not in a music video.
“With this concept we take five experiments that we’re familiar with, that have been done for hundreds of years in some cases, and take them to the next level,” Partington explains. “[F]or the most part it's just making them huge in an interesting and surprising way. There's something precious about the small versions of these experiments and I think there's something in all of us that loves to see that subverted—like setting the Chladni sand patterns on fire, with the same sound that created them.”
“Some of the experiments work on sound waves/pressure and some of the experiments were driven by the movement of the speaker cone,” he adds. “I love doing real in-camera special effects so I was excited about this opportunity to make everything for real from scratch.”
To create the special effects, Partington worked with a company out of Slovenia that built all props, apart from the speakers and amplifiers.
“If you look carefully you can see how a lot of the stuff is built,” Partington points out. “The Chladni plates are actually driven directly off of the speakers underneath. The pyro plates, the Rubens tubes, and that air hockey table—everything was totally built custom.”
Pulling off the waterfall, as Partington notes, wasn’t easy. Originally he and the band wanted to create a continuous curtain of water, but they ran out of research and development time, forcing them rebuild it the day before the shoot using 60 garden hoses.
“Actually, every experiment had its headaches,” says Partington. “With the fire, the big issue was safety—we had to shoot the air hockey table remotely, no one in the building. It had a sign-off from the safety engineers and had a CO2 system built in to neutralize the gas if necessary, but it was still a big box full of explosive gas. Three of the four 12-inch speakers burst into flames about 30 seconds into shooting that one, so that was the only take we got.”
And this wasn’t the only damage done on set. The speaker sphere, with each of its 98 speakers wired and connected to a stack of concert amplifiers, put out 78,000 watts of power, breaking factory windows when the production “cranked it up.”
“I initially wanted to shoot this all as a one-take film, but there were several reasons why this wasn't possible, the big one being safety,” Partington says. “But, also there was so much awesome closeup and slo-mo opportunity. For example, we had a Phantom camera that shot 2,500 frames per second to get that beautiful footage of the match lighting or paint bursting out of the speaker.”
“Ironically, or conveniently, the waterfall had no special approach to it because the effect was the product of the camera frame rate matching up with the audio frequency coming out of the speakers—that's an effect that can only be seen through the camera.”
Augmenting all of Partington’s sound experiments is a whole lot of choreographed dancing.
Good thing the special effects production didn’t get too dangerous.
Click here to see more of Bob Partington’s various experimental contraptions, including “The World’s Slowest Rube Goldberg Machine.”