SPAXELS rock in Rio – A test run near Linz


Lining-up for the daily rehearsals: Spaxels on the airfield in the vicinity of Linz. Photo: Martin Hieslmair


The flight controllers Benjamin Olson, Samuel Eckl and Simon Schmid during the test flights in the afternoon. Photo: Martin Hieslmair

The flight controllers Simon Schmid  (left) and  David Haider (right) are guarding the flight operation. Photo: Martin Hieslmair

left: Cameramen and photographers are in charge to get the picture right: Michael Mair, Markus Scholl, Raffael Portugal (from left to right) and Martin Hieslmair (on the far right). In the middle, Head of Operations Harald Dirisamer is taking care of the daily actions to run smoothly. Photo: Martin Dörsch

right: The airfield crew is making last preparations before the sun goes down. In front of the picture: Michael Sarsteiner, Michael Gritzer (from left to right) Photo: Martin Dörsch

The official trailer to Rock in Rio

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All antennas are switched on while the blue hour is descending. Photo: Martin Hieslmair

The weather conditions in Linz were spring-like on March 28th when Production Manager Nuno Sousa Pinto arrived from Rio de Janeiro with his artist management staff, moderator and film crew. Ars Electronica’s mission was to provide the visitors with an impressive foretaste of the spectacle, which would be captured on film and serve as the teaser for the upcoming edition of Rock in Rio. To make this happen, the Spaxels crew had already taken up position a week before at an airfield near Neulichtenberg and gotten busy testing the quadcopters.

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Brass-session in front of the backstage tent. Photo: Robert Bauernhansl 

The sundown provides a stunning afterglow for the Symphonieorchestra of the Anton Bruckner Private University. Photo: Martin Hieslmair

Not only the playing should be perfectly executed, also the look is supposed to be sharp. Photos: Martin Hieslmair

The organiser for the Symphony Orchestra of the Anton Bruckner Private University, Notburga Schobesberger, is literally standing behind the 60 musicians. Photo: Robert Bauernhansl

Likewise involved in the preparations were the members of the Symphony Orchestra of the Anton Bruckner Private University, who were rehearsing an adaptation of the official Rock in Rio anthem that has served as the festival’s signature melody ever since its 1985 premiere. The scenario called for the 60 formally attired musicians on stage to play Hermann Miesbauer’s arrangement while the 100 Spaxels® paint the sky with a perfectly synchronized sequence of dynamic images symbolizing the philosophy of Rock in Rio.

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A last rundown of the Rock in Rio anthem: the Symphony Orchestra of the Anton Bruckner Private University, conducted by Alexander H. Quasniczka, Photo: Robert Bauernhansl

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Rock in Rio’s production manager Nuno Sousa Pinto is explaining his take on the mission. Photo: Raffael Portugal

Laid back but nonetheless psyched up in anticipation of cool things to come, Rock in Rio’s Production Manager Nuno Sousa Pinto gave us an account of how he discovered the Spaxels and the backstory of the illuminated drone swarm’s performance at the festival he’s orchestrating.

“Like every year, our aim is to repeatedly surprise our audience with something new, stuff that they weren’t expecting. Rock in Rio stands for trendsetting, so we’re constantly scanning the market for possibilities to keep us on the leading edge of the animation sector. During our research, we came upon the Drone 100 Show on YouTube. I showed it to Roberto [Medina], our boss, with the recommendation to integrate this event into our next production. He was instantaneously delighted. So, I got in touch with Horst Hörtner, CEO of Ars Electronica SPAXELS®, told him about our idea and invited him to attend the spectacle in Lisbon so he could see for himself what we’re all about. That was in May of last year. We talked about how the Spaxels would be presented and quickly reached an agreement about the conditions.” Nuno Sousa Pinto, production manager, Rock in Rio

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The audience at Pöstlingberg is gleefully expecting the Spaxels-performance. Photo: Robert Bauernhansl

As the gathering twilight provided the perfect intro to the drones’ liftoff, the assembled spectators could feel the electricity in the cool evening air.

The Spaxels are switched on for take-off by the airfield crew. Photo: Martin Hieslmair

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The host of the Brasilian broadcasting station Globo TV, Rodrigo Alvarez, is announcing the show on the side of the airfield while a camera drone is zooming-out. Photo: Raffael Portugal

After the coundown, the Symphony Orchestra of the Anton Bruckner Private University is getting into full swing. A camera drone is shooting the stage act from above. Photo: Robert Bauernhansl

The airfield crew made one last inspection tour of the takeoff zone where the Spaxels were arrayed in formation, the orchestra had taken its place, the film crew (including a camera drone pilot) assumed their stand-by position, and the four flight controllers’ gazes were fixed on their monitor screens as the countdown proceeded, backed by recorded music that was the lead-in to the orchestral accompaniment of the takeoff.

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The Spaxel’s flight, witnessed by an enthusiastic audience. Photo: Robert Bauernhansl

The drones are shining brighter than the stars – and more colorful. photos: Martin Dörsch

“Pretty damned thrilling. This is the way of the future as far as visualization is concerned. I guess good old-fashioned fireworks are passé at this point. It’s hard for me to imagine something more exhilarating. As with any event, there’s no substitute for the live experience, and every festivalgoer will recall when he or she experienced this live for the first time. These are lasting memories. I’ll carry this with me forever.” Nuno Sousa Pinto, production manager, Rock in Rio

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The sundown is almost completed as the Spaxels are taking-off in the night-sky. Photos: Martin Hieslmair

Bulb exposure makes the electricity of a Spaxels performance even more visible. Photo: Martin Hieslmair

Before the swarm will be forming dynamic pictures, every drone has to get into the right position. Photo: Martin Hieslmair

The Spaxels paint a 220 meter wide arch onto the sky’s canvas. Photo: Martin Hieslmair

Huge swings are hovering above the airfield. Photo: Robert Bauernhansl

The electric guitar epitomizes Rock in Rio. Photo: Robert Bauernhansl

The choreographed Spaxels formed a 220-meter striated arc that produced a fabulous play of colors in synch with the orchestra’s upbeat strains. Then the round dance broke up and the space pixels reassembled into an equalizer whose imaginary frequency bands colorfully vibrated in time to the percussion instruments’ beat. Finally, a majestic sine wave materialized in the evening sky, and, following the dramaturgy of the musical piece, morphed into a gigantic electric guitar that was, in turn, succeeded by the sequence’s final image, the Rock in Rio logo.

The final picture in perfect syncronicity with the drum fills: The Rock in Rio-logo Photo: Robert Bauernhansl

What followed was thunderous applause by the assembled spectators who had spent the previous five minutes in a state of proverbial breathlessness. The international guests also took away a sense of confirmation that this foretaste of the extended live performance in Rio de Janeiro was indeed exactly what the Rock in Rio festival promoters were looking for—after all, the Spaxels will share billing with some of the great names of showbiz.

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A happy trimuvirate after a perfect show (from left to right) Globo TV-host Rodrigo Alvarez, Horst Hörtner, CEO and godfather of the Spaxels, Nuno Sousa Pinto (Production Manager Rock in Rio). Foto: Nuno Sousa Pinto

“Since what people expect from us is the ultimate in entertainment—state-of-the-art sound, needless to say, and an over-the-top light show—the Spaxels are a damned important detail of the festival as a whole. And that makes it an even greater challenge to present something totally novel to the audience year after year. Up to now, there’s never been a festival anywhere in the world that’s had the idea of incorporating a drone swarm into the show. The entire world is becoming increasingly oriented on technology and this is exactly why the people who come to us are going to love this. From now on, there can only be imitators [laughs].” Nuno Sousa Pinto, production manager, Rock in Rio

Fotos: Martin Hieslmair


SPAXELS® crew:

Horst Hörtner, Harald Dirisamer, Michael Kaiser, Chris Bruckmayr, Patrick Berger, Benjamin Olsen, Samuel Eckl, Jonathan Rutherford, Simon Schmid, Michael Platz, Anna-Sofia Nikka

Airfield crew:

Raphael Schaumburg-Lippe, Josef Koll, Jan Derschmidt, Lutz Derschmidt, David Haider, Alois Wohlmuther, Oliver Lasch, Michael Gritzer, Franz Peterseil, Michael Sarsteiner

Rock in Rio crew:

Production Manager Rock in Rio: Nuno Sousa Pinto

Moderator, Globo TV: Rodrigo Alvarez

Composer/ arranger:

Hermann Miesbauer


Alexander H. Quasniczka

Recording and Mixing:

Matthias Kronsteiner


Symphonieorchester der Anton Bruckner Privatuniversität, Linz

Vice-Rector for Performance:

Josef Eidenberger


Notburga Schobesberger

Camera team:

Director of Photography | Cut | Drone: Flight Kinetic-Raffael Portugal

Eagle-Eye Aerials: Bill Blair

Ars Electronica:

Michael Mayr, Martin Hieslmair, Thomas Schwarz, Markus Scholl, Robert Bauernhansl, Martin Dörsch

Show location provider:

Josef Koll & Family Lichtenberg Austria

Lights and sound:

Viteka & Lorenz OG

Stage: Braun GmbH


RST Energietechnik

Audience supervisors:

Raffaela Vornicu and Stefan Schwarzmair

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