"Hopefully people feel more connected to each other and the universe at the end of the show."
You might not know his name, but in a sense, Jordan Rosenheck has already played some of the biggest stages in the world. Coachella? Easy. Electric Daisy Carnival? 100 percent. He’s not a musician, but he’s certainly an artist -- one working in a different but highly complementary medium.
Rosenheck is the Creative Director and desiger behind Gryffin’s current Gravity II tour, a show made up of captivating visual displays inspired by the mysteries of space and the universe. Lauded as one of the year’s most outstanding shows on Coachella’s Sahara Tent, along with venues across North America, it was Rosenheck who conceptualized and produced this vibrant production alongside the artist born Dan Griffith. The 34 date tour concludes this Saturday (Dec. 7) in San Diego.
Rosenheck spent several years working in the music industry, helping to shape design departments of companies like CAA and Insomniac Events before moving towards larger-scale collaborations that aim to develop concepts that help define an artist’s creative vision. While Rosenheck doesn’t make music, there’s almost nothing else outside his realm -- he creates branding and logos, produces music videos, makes content across social media and designs and produces the brilliant visuals that truly complete the live show experience.
Billboard Dancecaught up with Rosenheck to learn more about his work, his inspirations and his adventures touring space and time with Gryffin.
What shows or experiences first inspired you to create within the intersection of music and technology?
I’ve always loved music, technology and sci-fi. The first time I thought about creating visuals was at Coachella in 2009. Everyone’s first festival is a mind-opening experience, but that year specifically, I remember seeing The Chemical Brothers on the main stage. The Chemical Brothers have always been forward-thinking about their visuals -- they use a lot of live action content, which I love. I remember telling my friends then and there that I was going to do this for a living someday. They love reminding me about that today.
How does the creative process of working on a show like Gravity with Gryffin go?
Gravity, the title of the show and album, is very fitting for Gryffin’s music, because it feels so big. I always joke that the biggest word in the universe is gravity. I did a ton of research -- got obsessed with the universe, studied space and watched nature documentaries -- and pinpointed stories of the universe that felt both profound enough to focus on and would lend themselves visually to create compelling looks.
I brought Dan a list of those moments, which included the Big Bang, the expansion of the universe, matter and physics, nebulas and wormholes, modern Earth, humanity and love, and we divided the show into a narrative about the universe. I storyboarded each section, and we went back-and-forth refining the looks... to specific visual elements. Then, we produced all the clips with visual houses, refining each 3D element and live action footage, where it was then taken to post-production and editing.
How did you pair inspirations from space to songs or moments in Gryffin’s show?
The show starts off in complete darkness, because before the Big Bang, there was nothing. Then, we slowly build towards an explosion of white, which represents the Big Bang and [during which] Dan is revealed. From there, we go into visual elements that represent the creation and expansion of the universe, which includes everything from replicating planets to celestial bodies exploding to traveling through a wormhole.
Then, we enter into a section that transitions between rocks, molten lava and ice with chaotic lightning and thunder, to represent the story of how things began. “Heading Home” is the moment when we journey through warp-speed stars and eventually crescendo by reaching our destination, or our “home,” the Milky Way.
Only at the end of the main chunk of our show do we finally see humans and humanity. In the encore, we focus on human conflict and emotions like love, and we end with “Whole Heart” as the finale. “Whole Heart” is about the Earth and life being precious, so it works really well that we focus on present day Earth in the finale. There are subtle Easter eggs throughout to show the connectivity of the universe. Animal faces and eyes flash towards the audience, intermixed with galaxies and natural occurring patterns like the spiral fractal of a shell or the eye of a storm, to show the connectedness of all things.
What have you taken away from this research?
I’ve fallen more and more in love with the universe through my research, and I feel that so many stories about our origins and the universe should be common knowledge. We all started from nothing. It took 14 billion years of random s--t bouncing off each other and subtle things like the axis tilting in exactly the right angle for Earth to become a habitable home for us. It’s humbling.
What’s the message you hope attendees of the Gravity show take away from the experience?
Our intent for the show and the music is to uplift and inspire people. The idea of taking people on a journey from the beginning of the universe and showing how long it took, and how many things happened in between the Big Bang and present-day Earth, will hopefully leave people feeling more connected to each other and the universe at the end of the show.
There’s a visual element that shows the Earth, really small, surrounded by pure black space. It’s inspired by a phrase that was coined by astronauts called the “overview effect.” It’s a cognitive shift that occurs when you’re able to view Earth from space, and it’s argued that if everyone were able to experience it -- to see how tiny we are in comparison to the infinite universe around it -- we’d be a more peaceful place. We like to end the show with that.
The first Gravity live show was on the road in 2018 and early 2019. How has Gravity II evolved that initial concept?
We essentially started with a blank canvas with the first version of Gravity, which was a challenging, but powerful experience. We really fell in love with what we built and were starting to own the theme in a unique way. Plus, we felt that audiences were feeling the same way, especially with a record crowd at Coachella and accolades in the press.
When it came time to start diving into the 2.0 version, Gravity II, we had a bit more budget and time to really evolve the show and music. From a production stand-point, the visuals, lighting, stage design, SFX and overall theatrics have gotten far more sophisticated and the story-arc has gotten stronger and more intentional. We designed and developed more custom 3D content, custom live-action content, big lighting moments, a flush LED setup creating more continuity from the front-risers to the back LEDs and then some.
From a music standpoint, Gryffin grew from a solo act into a three-piece band. One of the biggest evolutions was a surprise we debuted at Coachella, which was a live orchestral integration in the show. We brought a full orchestra of cellists, violinists, percussionists and more out to the Sahara stage to perform, creating new big, symphonic moments. We collaborated with Max Arug, who is a composer and classically trained musician who has worked under Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe. He also conducted the orchestra live. Classical instrumentation has become a bigger part of the project, with new instrumental sections of the show being added in, as well as to the Gravity album itself. The show music has gotten more cinematic, with more space between the music to let things breathe and feel dramatic and powerful.
What do you love most about working with Gryffin and his team?
Dan pushes everyone to take it to the next level. Our show is a combination of many passionate, hard-working and highly creative minds coming together. There’s Ben Dalgleish, an award-winning Lighting Director, who is a big part of this production. There's Spencer Peterson, who is both a talented Musical Director and also Gryffin’s drummer by night. From management, to tour manager, to Dan’s wife Steph (a.k.a. team mom), to our photo and video team -- it truly takes a village. I've never worked on something where that phrase is more true.