Winter Solstice For Astera

SOLSTICE: Reflections on Winter Light’” is a multimedia and meditative art experience celebrating the shortest, darkest day of the year, created by MASARY Studios from Boston, and presented at Mount Auburn Cemetery in Cambridge and Watertown, Massachusetts.

It started as a small two-day installation idea in 2020 during the pandemic and has grown rapidly and organically to become a hugely popular and accessible 10-day annual public art festival. Visitors engage with the magic and ephemeral beauty of lighting and sound and its relation to the algorithms, mystery, and energies at work in the greater universe.

MASARY Studio’s Sam Okerstrom-Lang initially needed “high quality and durable kit to withstand tough environmental conditions of New England in the winter!,” so when their technical partner AVFX introduced them to Astera in 2020, they were delighted with the results and happy to keep using the brand as the event has expanded.

The 2022 Winter Solstice event, the largest to date, will be repeated in 2023 and 2024, with Sam and his colleagues again looking forward to utilizing nearly 250 Astera LED lighting products.

SOLSTICE now embraces three areas of the land that was dedicated as the first ‘garden cemetery’ in the USA in 1831. The special setting encompasses classical monuments in an attractive, undulating landscaped terrain, the perfect location for a contemplative and contemporary piece of multi-media art.

All three Winter Solstice areas involve the application of Astera products.

A total of 48 x AX3 LiteDrops, 24 x AX2s, 80 x AX5s and 32 x AX7s were deployed in 2022 to light these different parts of the project, including illuminating the interior of the Bigelow Chapel and highlighting the numerous interconnecting pathways around the Cemetery.

“Phase Garden” was a new immersive lighting and sound piece realized for the first time in 2022, scheduled to return this year. MASARY artists Ryan Edwards lead the audio and Touch Designer guru Jeremy Stewart, PhD lead the lighting.

It features 12 towers arranged around a 70-metre mapped circumference, each rigged with four Astera AX5 TriplePARs, 2 x AX7 SpotLites, two AX2 PixelBars, and a loudspeaker.

The lighting fixtures were all chosen for their excellent color mixing together with the ability to pixel map the AX2s in particular, creating smooth and fluid vertical animations.

Geometry was a big inspiration for this piece explained Sam, especially with it located in the Asa Gray Garden, a space designed by America’s most famous Botanist located just inside the Cemetery's Egyptian Revival Gateway. It serves as a focal point and crescendo of the celestial experience.

Each tower acts as an independent channel of light and sound in the spherical space, with cues triggered by a series of cosmic “events”. Guests are free to enter and sit down, dwell, contemplate, move around, etc., and remain for any amount of time.

Phase Garden’s lighting and audio is transformed by a series of calculations relating to the different cosmic ratios created by the periodic relationships between the earth, sun, and moon at various and combined scales.

The ‘events’, which dramatically shift the melodic scale, colour palette and frequency (rhythm) of sound and lighting, are run via a grandMA3 lighting console and an Ableton Live interface connected to Touch Designer, the latter creating dedicated mathematical ‘hot’ zones derived from algorithmic events in the universe. These are compressed and organized for a more direct and intimate connection between their phasing, frequency, and coincidence.

“Visitors can be connected to and reflect on the cosmic rhythms and cycles that transform the seasons; they can feel the power of the cosmic clock that is our earth’s solar journey,” elucidated Sam.

The Asteras were all run wired – although Sam also appreciates their wireless capabilities – and were completely open to the elements where they were frequently subjected to wind, snow, sleet, rain, and freezing temperatures. Their performance and robustness coupled with the brightness and focusability were “excellent” he affirms.

Phase Garden was a massive hit with the public which is why it is returning for this year’s Winter Solstice alongside the other site-specific artworks.

The lit interior architecture of the Bigelow Chapel offered a totally different atmosphere, elegantly lit with AX3s and AX5s set to flickering colors and intensities that complemented a host of the glowing candles which each guest places. Sam particularly likes the Astera amber ranges and the softness and homogeneity of the output.

With all these three pieces of light and mixed media art returning in December, Sam hints that, like every living, breathing project, there will be some further “evolution” on all of them.

MASARY Studios is a transdisciplinary artist collective which is creating, reconsidering, reimagining and energizing environments through site-specific installations and performance using sound, light, video, and other digital and electronic media.

Photos: Aram Boghosian