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Phoneless at “Return to Pharos”: A Look at Last Night’s Private Event held by Microsoft and Wolf + Rothstein

At this point, you’ve probably already heard about Donald Glover and his work. You’ve either seen him as Troy on Community, as Rich Purnell in last year’s The Martian, or you may have heard some of his Grammy nominated music under the moniker Childish Gambino. Of course, he has had his hands in a plethora of other projects, but it’s all well known knowledge at this point. Go to any article ever written about the man. Every single one of them will include his credits, but chances are if you’re reading this that you already know who he is, so why go over it more? He has an extremely elaborate career.

The night began with entrance into Microsoft’s Venice Lounge, a beautifully designed contemporary event space with an open bar and a full wait staff. It was a very intimate area with a modern, clean look to it. Something you can expect from an event space by Microsoft. Screens displaying both the artwork to Awaken, My Love! and information from Microsoft regarding the night’s activities were plastered all over the walls, and everyone in attendance spent their time standing around the space and conversing until the panel began. Everyone attending the event was handed a locking Yondr phone case that prevented us from accessing our devices, just like at the real Pharos event.

One of the biggest selling points of the night was a table in the corner where a few sets of VR goggles were loaded with full, 360 degree videos of Me and Your Mama, recorded directly live, from Pharos. In the video, you are placed bottom-center of the stage, where the caved roof of the dome that Glover set up in Joshua Tree looks just like the sky, and aliens of different designs tower over you and roam the space. It’s hard not to get caught in the astounding beauty and scale of the world that Childish Gambino and his mountainous choir and band created.

About an hour after doors opened, the panel finally came out, which besides Glover, featured Wolf + Rothstein and a few people from the Music x Technology team at Microsoft. The comfortably packed room all moved forward and hushed down. They discussed contemporary music festivals, which they claimed to all have the same problem of cell phones. This is true – it’s not just at festivals, but most concerts you can attend, the crowd is filled with phones, constantly filming or serving as some sort of distraction. With Pharos, they set out to fix that problem.

The team at Microsoft discussed the animations seen throughout, which were created using motion capture technology that Microsoft provided. Some of them were Donald being captured and translated into the alien creature. They also spoke about how, since they did not have the inclusion of phones, they were able to look out into the crowd during the shows and see their reactions to what was going on. This enabled them the unique experience of getting real time reactions to their work.

Glover also took some time to talk about the creative process, detailing a house that him and his team call “The Factory”. It’s a space where by day, the writing staff for Atlanta works on the show, and by night, music for Awaken, My Love! was created. He touched on how he wanted to create a communal space like that in order for people and ideas to flow and form more freely. Fam and him both also spent some time talking about Royalty, and how they all hold each other accountable for their ideas, or as Fam put it, “Sometimes you have a shitty idea, and someone’s got to tell you that you have a shitty idea.”

That’s true.

Right when the panel ended, we were told that the full Pharos concert video would be available Early 2017, alongside the vinyl release of the album. You can also watch the video for Me and Your Mama above.

Written by Adam Sputh

Photo By: Nils Erik

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