Forging the Visual Frontier: Nick Jasso

Forging the Visual Frontier: Nick Jasso

By Alex Mendoza

During the 2011 Percussion Advisory Board meeting, the distinguished team of instructors and designers voted on a proposal that would allow the use of lights, projectors, and televisions in the competitive arena for the 2012 season.  The proposal was then passed onto the Percussion Steering Committee, whom approved the proposal and sanctioned the rule to go into immediate effect.

Soon after, the discussion focused on which WGI ensembles would take advantage of the new rule, along with how these media implements would shape design choices of WGI programs in the present, as well as the future.

One of these units was Ayala High School, a World Class drumline familiar with risk and innovation, and traditionally known to employ production values that are as ambitious as their conceptual and musical endeavors. 

The ensemble’s 2012 PSW Bronze Medal program, “In The Dark”, elevated the definition of percussion theater to unforeseen heights, implementing three custom-made towers – each stacked with three LCD screen televisions – that would visually heighten the meticulous effect elements strewn throughout.

Coordinating the visuals, however, to the ever-shifting elements of winter percussion programs is not as simple as turning on the visualizer function on iTunes, or Windows Media Player.  Each visual composition is a painstaking effort, requiring countless hours to ensure that the visual elements on the screens match the visual effects executed on the floor – all without taking away attention from the performers.

It was a challenge Nick Jasso was ready to tackle head-on.

“I was approached by Ernie McLaurin, who was my Executive Director my first year of drum corps and also the cymbal instructor at Ayala, right after marching band season to do the video gig for the 2012 winter season. He was familiar with some of my previous work and passed me on to Ike Jackson, who later pitched me the idea for their show and I instantly fell in love with the concept.”

“In The Dark” presented audiences with a contemporary perspective of the longstanding battle between the forces of Good and Evil, pairing the demanding drill and musical compositions with a series of arresting visuals displayed on the LCD towers positioned in the back left corner.  Whether it was the striking spectacle of a massive tree bathed in golden light, unexpected orbs of pearl-white radiance phasing in and out of the dripping darkness, or a body ascending through an ocean of stars, the result was as breathtaking as it was affecting, but not without considerable logistical demands.

“The main challenge was figuring out how to effectively mount these LCD monitors to stand on their own, but David O’ Connell made it happen.  He is the father of the battery section leader, and he invested much of his own personal time working with Ike to figure out a way to make this show work the way we planned.  After compiling a list of things these rigs needed to do, we were asking him to design an object capable of lasting all season, on top of being collapsible and able to lift upwards of 500 pounds thirteen feet into the air, but still look appealing.”

“I don’t know how Dave pulled it off, but he did an excellent job.”

Unexpectedly, Nick found himself presented with another opportunity to work with the design team for Ayala’s concert program, “The Absence of You”, a melancholy tale of unrequited love and lost opportunity, set to a nuanced blend of haunting wine glass echoes and dynamic shifts of musical sentiment. 

Yet, without the motion of battery players rushing throughout the tarp, the challenge shifted to maintaining an organic balance between the story on the screen and the lyricism of the music.

“My biggest fear was actually doing too much, so we had a lot of design meetings figuring out how to make this movie effective, but not so distracting that it was all that you watched.  There’s still an amazing show happening right in front of you.”

Although somber in tone and subject matter, the visual style of the concert program’s narrative seamlessly matches the mood of each scene, playing out like a short film with a live orchestra accompanying the evolving storyline of its nameless characters.

From the opening image of a young girl greeting the audience while on a swing, to the closing shot of a deep-red ribbon set against a black and white backdrop – these evocative symbols chronicle the narrator’s discovery of his friend’s engagement, witnessing her wedding, and coming to terms with his anger in regards to this bewildering outcome – all made possible by strict attention to every detail, no matter how small or minute.

“With all the new technology we had on the floor, I wanted to make sure the way I did it was at the highest level, from both a logistical and creative perspective.  I spent hours everyday throughout the entire season observing and improving my contributions to each show so the kids had the perfect catalysts to drive them to the top of the activity. Plus, any changes in the music or counts, which we all know happens a ton throughout the season, added at least three or more hours of work on my end.  So as you can imagine, it took the entire season to get the shows exactly where we wanted them.”

The countless hours of additional time invested in constructing the rigs and filming the concert line’s short film, as well as the risk involved with the execution of the LCD visual elements, worked in Ayala’s favor, as both ensembles earned medals within their respective classes.

For Nick, however, it presented him an opportunity to explore uncharted creative territory with one of the most well known groups of the recent decade.  An opportunity he occasionally reflects upon months after the conclusion of the 2012 season.

“This season taught me a lot about patience and that trying new things takes time to figure out, and to see what happens as you go along.  You just improvise and do the absolute best job you can and hope the audience is able to thoroughly enjoy the show, and hope the kids have a great time performing their show.”