Abigail Rosen Holmes: Phish At Sphere Las Vegas

Abigail Rosen Holmes, Moment Factory, Chris Kuroda, Atomic Design, and Tait provide design and production elements for Phish — an American rock band formed in Burlington, Vermont in 1983 featuring guitarist/lead vocalist Trey Anastasio, bassist Mike Gordon, drummer Jon Fishman, and keyboardist Page McConnell — at Sphere Las Vegas. The mini-residency consisted of four shows on April 18, 19, 20 & 21, 2024. Phish is the second major band to tackle the massive inner LED sphere and the state-of-the-art HOLOPLOT audio system at this new iconic venue, which opened last September with U2's incredible show, "U2:UV Achtung Baby Live."

Live Design chats with Abigail Rosen Holmes, who has worked with Talking Heads, Roger Waters, Peter Gabriel, Miley Cyrus, and Janet Jackson, and is now show director and co-creative director for the new Phish show. She started work on the project in July 2023, and by early fall the team was work-shopping and building creative ideas. Initial programming and testing for the video production — which can be modified and manipulated in real time — also began in 2023, with invaluable technical support from Fuse, Earlybird, and the team at MSG (Madison Square Garden). Preparations inside Sphere itself began this past March.

Abigail Rosen Holmes at Sphere
Photo by Rene Huemer (Abigail Rosen Holmes at Sphere)

Live Design: What is your exact role for Phish at Sphere?

Abigail Rosen Holmes: My role includes work with all the design elements of the show, from the show concepts and ideas for our approach, the visuals, stage design, and other production elements on this project that cannot be separated from the technical and production work needed to delivery those ideas — from the playback approach, to the technical development required.

Everything initiated from Trey and the band and an idea of what these shows could be. Then working creatively to develop and explore ideas, with our fantastic team from Moment Factory, Chris Kuroda, our designers at Atomic Design, and Tait.  And hugely importantly the amazing Phish production and crew — it is sometimes overlooked how invaluable their contribution is to bringing these shows to life.

Creating a show for the Sphere is a huge undertaking — it takes a team of amazing creative and technical people to pull it off. So of course Im not the person writing code for the video playback. I work on building the understanding of how our end result wants to be shaped, and then working with and then guiding and supporting all those teams to pull it together.

I also will be executing the video during the show, using a customized playback setup on the grandMA console

Photo by Rene Huemer
Tripping The Light Fantastic: Phish perform at Wright State University Nutter Center in Dayton, Ohio on Oct. 10, 2023.  (Photo by Rene Huemer)

LD: How are you/the designers/the band approaching the uniqueness of Sphere as a performance space?

ARH: We thought a lot about how to do a great show for Phish in the Sphere. We wanted to take advantage of the unique space and technologies to do things which simply couldn’t be done in any other venue, including taking advantage of the incredible capabilities of the sound system, as well the amazing visual surface of the wall.

We wanted to be sure that the creative choices we made not only provided great visuals, but most importantly set up to allow the band to have their best shows possible. That included designing our visuals in a way which would support the band being able to play as they would in any other situation, to fully improvise and jam, and to play four shows without repeating songs. All our visuals are executed live, and are able to be adjusted in real time

That also allowed us to really take advantage of what makes Phish amazing — the incredible range of their music, and their embrace of trying new things, and taking experimental risks.  We have tried to lean into some design choices you might not be able to do with any other artist

LD: What are they looking to achieve aesthetically?

ARH: As with the band itself we are aiming to bring something new to each night’s performance. The intent is for the visual and sonic experience to expand and enhance the band performance, and always be built from it. The length and breadth of the four nights really given us opportunity to explore a range of visual experiences and we aim to make each overall night welcoming, immersive, fun and amazing.

LD:  What is the plan for the huge LED/video canvas —who is creating the images?

ARH: We have a great team from Moment Factory, they are supporting the video content and show design. Jean-Baptise Hardoin is co-creative director with me, and Manuel Galarneau is multimedia director, along with incredible animators and content developers. Others contributing to the show's design elements include Atomic Design and our team at Tait.

LD:  Any details on software/hardware for content creation and playback?

ARH: Video Is being executed through Sockpuppet (which fully implements DMX & OSC controls into Disguise software on a grandMA3), with programming by Benjamin Roy, Earlybird, and additional programming by Andrew Giffin. Content includes pre rendered pieces, as well as generative content created with Unreal and Notch. The primary Disguise server system is in-house to MSG with additional equipment, programming, and processors — and extraordinary technical support provided by Fuse.

LD: How is the lighting being handled given the limits or challenges of the space?

ARH: Chris Kuroda’s lighting is an integral part of the show at Sphere, where lighting and video will mesh together to build the visual experience. His amazing touring rig didn’t work within the Sphere; in its place he has a custom system for these performances to take advantage of this room and stage.  

LD:  Largest challenge met along the way?

ARH: There will be a lot of focus on the technological advances which have supported this show. Our challenge is to ensure that isn’t what the audience ever focuses on in the room. They should just be experiencing a great show.

Related content: Live Design's coverage of U2 and Sphere Las Vegas.

Stay tune for additional coverage of Phish at Sphere.