Interview with Team GFA / La Ronde

By pyropaul August 5th, 2017, under Reports

I met with Eric Cardinal, designer of the fireworks for the special closing show, along with La Ronde technical director, Paul Csukassy, who had put together the soundtrack.

Paul told me he had been inspired by senior pyrotechnician, François Leger, as he had toured with Harmonium “back in the day”. Working together with Harmonium frontman, Serge Fiori as well as founding bassist, Louis Valois, they spent time in Serge’s studio putting together the special tribute soundtrack. Paul said there was a lot of back and forth and Eric noted that he didn’t have the final soundtrack in his hands until mid June, though he’d heard drafts up until that point.

With a busy schedule for GFA this year, particularly in Ontario where they did a show on the CN Tower as well as many others in the area, Eric said he didn’t have time to start working on the design of the show until around July 13th. Fortunately, with GFA being local, all the products they needed were already in stock.

Paul Csukassy (l) and Eric Cardinal (r)

Paul Csukassy (l) and Eric Cardinal (r)

Eric said the show will be composed of around 3500 products and, due to the nature of the music, will be more of a show of shells rather than a one-shot dominated show. He noted that ramp 2, in particular, is very large with seven positions and that there are over 2000 shells in the show. Cue count reflects the lower number of one-shots with around 2600. All ramps will be used and Eric noted that the show fill feature a lot of large nautical shells, with calibres up to 150mm that “will take your hat off”. Another interesting feature of the display is the use of a lot of mines on ramp 3, with calibres up to 125mm. Mines seem to have fallen out of favour in recent years with competitors favouring one-shots. These are available as mine-effects, but usually no larger than 60 or 75mm – so mines of 125mm calibre should provide some dramatic effects.

Eric and Paul both said they enjoyed working on the show and it should be an enjoyable conclusion to the 33rd edition of the competition!

GFA / La Ronde Soundtrack

By pyropaul August 3rd, 2017, under Soundtrack

C’est dans le ciel avec Serge Fiori et Harmonium

  1. Aujourd’hui je dis bonjour à la vie – Harmonium
  2. Un musicien parmi tant d’autres – Harmonium
  3. Pour un instant – Harmonium
  4. Harmonium – Harmonium
  5. En pleine face – Harmonium
  6. Vert – Harmonium
  7. Depuis l’automne – Harmonium
  8. Histoires sans paroles – Harmonium
  9. Deux cents nuits à l’heure – Serge Fiori et Richard Séguin
  10. Viens danser – Serge Fiori et Richard Séguin
  11. Ça fait du bien – Serge Fiori et Richard Séguin
  12. Le monde est virtuel – Serge Fiori
  13. Jamais – Serge Fiori
  14. Comme un fou – Harmonium
  15. Chanson noire (Pour une blanche cérémonie) – Harmonium
  16. Comme un sage (Comme un sage) – Harmonium

July 29 – Jubilee Fireworks – England

By pyropaul July 30th, 2017, under Reports

As a reporter now for 25 seasons, I will, unusually, not report on the this itself. This is because I was honoured to be part of the Jubilee crew and worked with them for the five day setup.

I’ve known for many years that each display requires five days to setup, but it’s a whole different perspective to actually work those five days. The first two days were spent inside a large tent on Isle Notre Dame to do what is termed “pre-mounting”. The reason for the location is that another competitor was working on the firing ramps to put out their display. Since there are only four days between displays when there are two per week, this extra site is required.

Pre-mounting site (thanks to Mylene Salvas)

The pre-mounting team is composed only of crew members from the competing team. In our case, we had myself and Mylene Salvas from Montreal and seven people from Jubilee in the UK, though the display designer, Andy Wiggins, arrived on day two. Our task was to “ignite” and assemble as many one-shots as we could. The term “ignite” means to apply electric matches to the one-shots before assembling them in racks.

Mylene and I were tasked with assembling four large fans of one-shots, each one composed of 64 devices. These were to be positioned on three of the “access ramps” which connect ramp 2 (land) to ramp 3 (floating in the lake).

Fan racks for access ramps to ramp 3

After two days of pre-mounting, we moved to the main site where we were joined by La Ronde’s crew of 15, giving us a total of 24 people for the three days “in the field”. Some of us continued with pre-mounting one-shots, fan-slices, roman candles and so on whilst the La Ronde crew installed all the mortars on ramps 1 and 2 and then, with the supervision of a Jubilee crew member, installed all the shells.

Day 4 saw us start to install ramp 3 and this was completed by early morning on day 5 (show day). In the meantime, ramp 1 had been fully installed and tested and ramp 2 test was completed on the morning of the final day. Most of the final day was spent completing the remaining wiring on ramp 3, setting up the pontoons (ramp 5) and then checking and adjusting. Several crew members check that every one-shot “pod” was correctly oriented to the audience and that everything marked “left” was pointing left – same thing for “right”. A dedicated team then spent several hours on their hands and knees adjusting the angle on every single one-shot and candle – around 1500 of them, using a digital angle gauge. The slope of the ramp itself was taken into account and every angle adjust to within a tenth of a degree. And what a lot of angles: 30, 40, 45, 50, 53, 55, 60, 63, 65, 68, 70, 73, 75, 80, 81 and 90! Such attention to detail is one of Jubilee’s hallmarks.

Panorama of ramp 3

The days were long – meet for breakfast at 6:45, collect the packed lunches at 7:30, start on site at 8am. Thirty minutes for lunch around 12, finish each day at 6. Rush home for a shower and change of clothes then meet for dinner and finally get home for bed around midnight (or after 1am on the day of the Macedos show). Weather was perfect throughout the setup.

And then it was time for the ceremony and the show. We had a couple of small technical problems, but the display went well with just enough wind. I think it was the best one of the year, but I’m biased.

Jubilee Fireworks Soundtrack

By pyropaul July 29th, 2017, under Soundtrack

Gunpowder and Greasepaint

  1. Overture – Phantom of the Opera
  2. Any Dream – Joseph & the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat
  3. One Night in Bangkok – Chess
  4. Timewarp – Rocky Horror Picture Show
  5. Big Spender – Sweet Charity
  6. One Night Only – Dreamgirls
  7. Luck Be A Lady – Guys & Dolls
  8. Memory – Cats
  9. You Can’t Stop The Beat – Hairspray
  10. America – West Side Story
  11. On My Own – Les Miserables
  12. Footloose – Footloose
  13. Come What May – Moulin Rouge

Interview with Team Jubilee Fireworks

By pyropaul July 28th, 2017, under Interview

Normally, I report that I met with the designer of a display and give some background. However, this time,  I not only met with Andy Wiggins of Jubliee Fireworks for the second participation in Montreal, but I am actually on the crew.

Jubilee competed in 2015 and, uniquely in the competition’s history, were rewarded with the Gold Jupiter despite being the first competitor. Despite this win, Andy had been disappointed with some aspects of their display and he told me they had learned a lot since 2015. A lot of time had been spent on-site making various angled structures out of wood to hold the one-shots in the display, which had cost a lot of time and effort. This time, Jubilee shipped their racks from the UK along with their fireworks. This has greatly reduced the amount of time required during the pre-mounting phase, which is important as there are over 2500 one-shots.

Fan racks for ramp 3

Products come from various European manufacturers with Hamex in Slovenia and Guiliani in Italy making products specially for the display. Other companies include Ricasa and Europla from Spain as well as Jubilee’s owb-brand Chinese products. Andy told me that one thing they had learned in 2015 was that ramp 4 didn’t really add anything to the display so it will not be used. Ramp one will have the usual 5 positions, with 9 on ramp 2 and 21 across the front of ramp 3. Ramp 3 also includes 3 access ramps – these will be used together with two pontoons in between the access ramps and a further five pontoons forming ramp 5.

Candle rack

Enthusiasts of large calibre shells will be pleased with the range 175mm-300mm shells used in the display too!

The theme of the display, Gunpowder and Greasepaint, is designed to highlight a very theatrical style, with Andy telling me he was not the greatest fan of musicals, but, after watching the famous Strictly Come Dancing television show in the UK realized that this form of music is very popular and will get people moving.

Andy Wiggins

Portugal – July 26th – Macedos Pirotecnia

By pyropaul July 27th, 2017, under Reports

The Portuguese Odyssey

Designed by Diogo Vasconcelos; FireOne firing with ~3000 cues – Macedos-developed visualization software.

A threat of light rain gave way to excellent conditions for this display fired on the 30th birthday of the designer, making him the forth youngest designer in the history of the competition (Yanick Roy was 29 when Royal won Gold in 2003, Eric Cardinal was 27 when Ampleman won Silver in 1999 and Nikola Koletic was 23 when Mirnovec Pirotehnika won Silver in 2013).

This display was unusual in that it contained embedded narration throughout the display to help tell the story of the Portuguese and their voyages of discovery to different places, which were reflected in the music, hinting at Asia, India, Africa and South America.

Favourable wind conditions allowed the audience to see vibrant colours throughout the display, with sequences of blue comet mines used from time to time to represent sea voyages. A fairly wide variety of material was used, including Portuguese specialties such as relampagos (a type of photoflash shell) as well as a form of scrambling comets. However, there was some repetition through the middle of the display of more basic shells such as peonies with dahlia comets. The same is true with variety of firing angles. The first part of the display was good, then there was some repetition before we got to the closing segments.

Unfortunately, there were a couple of positions knocked out of service on ramp 3, but this didn’t detract too much. One very positive feature of the display was its density – a large volume of material was used which gave a rich and full feeling. All of the space available was made use of with ramp 5 as well as large nautical shells, though it was a pity the girandolas largely refused to fly, appearing to be tethered to the ground.

The build up to the finale was really well done with typically Portuguese silver “breaking glass” comets – these are sometimes referred to as “dripping comets” as the trail appears to form a sort of waterfall in the sky. Then a transition to gold comets, volleys of whistles and final thunderous volleys of salutes, bringing the display to a close to cheers from the audience.

This was definitely Macedos most powerful display in Montreal and was thoroughly enjoyed by the audience. Most definitely a contender for a Jupiter!

Macedos Soundtrack

By pyropaul July 25th, 2017, under Soundtrack

Portuguese Odyssey

  1. Cancão Do Mar – Dulce Pontes
  2. Barco Negro – Mariza
  3. Lusitana Paixão – Dulce Pontes
  4. Ocean Princess – Thomas Bergersen
  5. Conquest Of Paradise – Vangelis
  6. New World Symphony ( Allegro) – Antonin Dvorak
  7. Nabucco – Giuseppe Verdi
  8. Baba Yetu (The Lord’s Prayer in Swahili) – Alex Boyé BYU Mens Chorus Philharmonic Christopher
  9. The Lion King “Circle Of Life” – Alex Boye ft. Alisha Popat Lemarti
  10. Paradise(Peponi) African Style – Coldplay Ft. guest artist Alex Boye (ThePianoGuys)
  11. O Amor A Portugal (Cera Una Volta Il West) – Focus – Ennio Morricone & Dulce Pontes
  12. Koto – CloZee
  13. Favo De Mel – The Rio Singers
  14. Immediate Music Epic Extended Remix – Lacrimosa

Interview with Team Macedos

By pyropaul July 25th, 2017, under Interview

I met with Fernando Macedos, patriarch of the now 4-generation fireworks family together with the designer of the display Diogo Vasconcelos, a relatively new recruit to the company.

Team Macedos (Fernando on the right)

Macedos last competed in 2010, a year that was strongly contested, as well as in 2006, another strong year. Both times they were pipped to the post. Fernando said that winning in competitions is important for his company and was pleased to note they just came second in Pamplona, in Spain, where even the locals acknowledged they had the best display.

Diogo explained the theme of this year’s display is essentially a history of Portugal’s discoveries around the world, represented in eight thematic elements covering Africa, Asia, as well as Brazil with music that reflects the cultures of these places.

On the pyrotechnic side, Fernando told me that 40% of the products used are produced in his factory, with the remaining 60% coming from Lidu in China. There will be many special effects that are typical of Portugal, including relampagos (sequenced photoflashes) tremidas (a type of strobes) as well as others that are not directly translatable but something like a cross between “bees” and “go-getters”. Portugal is renowned for rockets, but none will be used as they’re too unpredictable fora pyromusical. Fernando also noted that he needed more mortars than were immediately available on site.

Five positions on ramps 1 and 2 will be used, as well as 13 on ramp 3, five on ramp 5 (the pontoons) but probably nothing on ramp 4. The display is being fired using 100 32-cue FireOne modules, with around 3000 cues – a first for Macedos as they normally use the wireless FireMaster system. I did sense a tiny bit of trepidation about using an unfamiliar system. Diogo said parts of the display had been visualized with some in-house software he had created.

Inviting the audience come to La Ronde, Fernando joked that they would all be there to see him, but, in seriousness, he said he wanted people to come and experience the pride and history of the Portuguese.

France – July 22nd – féérie

By pyropaul July 23rd, 2017, under Reports

Evolution of Music

Concept by Joël Harmon and Yvonnick Dugast, pyrotechnical design by Rodrigo Oyarzp Contador. FireOne firing with ~3500 cues.

An almost perfect summer’s evening with pleasant temperatures and a favourable wind direction was the backdrop to this anticipated third participation by féérie in Montreal.

The thematic concept of the display was the evolution of music and it did begin very rhythmically with a narration explaining how we progressed from banging rocks together to adding voice etc. to the music. Very quickly we ended up with rock-and-roll, jazz and reggae, but there was nothing much about any other music between caveman times and the early 20th century.

On the pyrotechnic side, with favourable wind conditions we could enjoy the vibrant colours Igual products are renowned for. There was a good variety of effects, but rather fewer special effects compared to the Italian and Polish shows (so no studatas or effects such as the now popular ghost shell). We did get some interesting horizontal wheels as well as horizontal firing mines on ramp 3.

The link between the fireworks and music was good on the whole but I got the feeling that there was sometimes a bit of a disconnect between the lyric of a piece and the effects used. For example, in Blue Suede Shoes, the fireworks did, indeed, start out blue, but not for long. In other places we had girandolas where the music was quite rhythmic, something of an odd choice in my opinion. At the start of Bob Marley’s One Love, a sequence of comets fired a large I, then a heart and then a large U – this was well done but we only saw it once and it was easy to miss.

Overall, the firing patterns were a little bit on the simplistic side and, despite the larger number of cues compared to their previous display, I didn’t feel that they did as much as the theme had promised.

All in all, though, it was a very well executed display that did make good use of all of the space, though it did lack a certain density and sophistication from time to time. Definitely a contender for a Jupiter, though.

féérie Soundtrack

By pyropaul July 21st, 2017, under Soundtrack

The Evolution of Music

  1. This Is Madness – Hans Zimmer
  2. The Ramayana Monkey Chant (Bali) – Ketjak
  3. Go down Moses – Louis Armstrong
  4. Royal Garden Blues – Louis Armstrong And The All-Stars
  5. Feeling Good – Nina Simone
  6. Blue Suede Shoes – Elvis Presley
  7. One Love – Bob Marley
  8. Johnny B Goode – Chuck Berry
  9. Highway To Hell – AC/DC
  10. We Will Rock You – Queen
  11. Life From Mars – David Bowie
  12. Mes Souliers Sont Rouges – Les Souliers Rouges
  13. My Ding A Ling – Chuck Berry
  14. Rabbi Jacob – Vladimir Cosma
  15. Down The Road – C2C
  16. Hallelujah – Leonard Cohen
  17. Brown Sugar – Rolling Stones
  18. Toute La Musique Que J’aime – Johnny Hallyday

Interview with Team féérie

By pyropaul July 21st, 2017, under Interview
Joel Harmon (l) and Dugast Yvonnick(r)

Joël Harmon (l) and Dugast Yvonnick(r)

I met with Joël Harmon and Dugast Yvonnick who are the thematic and pyrotechnical designers for this third participation of féérie in the Montreal International Fireworks competition, their previous displays being in 2012 and 2007.

Joël told me he had heard that 2017 would be Montreal’s 375th anniversary and had thought it would be great to come this year and, to his surprise and pleasure, received the call in late 2016 inviting féérie to compete!

He said the approach féérie are using in 2017 is quite different to their previous participations in 2012 and 2007 and the Montreal display is completely different to their recent attendance at a new fireworks competition held this past June in Timmins, Ontario. Not only a different type of site but a much different length of display too.

The soundtrack for their display essentially tells the story of the evolution of music from the beginning of time, where it was just the rhythmic banging of coconut shells together, all the way through American music with the birth of Jazz, rock-and-roll and up to contemporary music including the much missed Leonard Cohen and his new classic, Hallelujah.

On the pyrotechnic side, féérie are using mainly products (around 95%) from Igual in Spain because of their known performance and quality, especially with respect to colour and effect. Joël stressed this quality aspect is very important for their company. The remaining 5% will be special Chinese products. The display is not using a big arsenal of large calibre shells, though there will be quite a lot of 175mm calibre. Dugast stressed they are looking for the overall effect in the sky rather than just single large shells.

The display will consist of around 3500 cues with approximately 2500 one-shots, which is rather more than their display in 2012. All firing ramps, including the floating pontoons, will be used and there will also be nautical devices, but no special structures.

Let’s hope for favourable wind conditions for their display where the team hope people will move and dance to the music!

Germany – July 19th – Innovative Pyrotechnik

By pyropaul July 20th, 2017, under Reports

Pyro Rhapsody

Designed by Joachim Berner. PyroDigital firing with ~5500 cues.

A hot a humid summer’s day was supposed to give way to perfect conditions for evening fireworks, but Mother Nature decided otherwise. A dying thunderstorm crashed the party at around 7 pm, leaving air that was still and very humid – what little wind there was, unfortunately, was directed towards the audience.

The display began dramatically with two large 21-bombette shell-of-shells studatas. This set the tone for a powerful opening segment with many very high quality shells used.

All of the material used in the display was of excellent quality, from the magnificent Italian studatas through the very high-firing one-shots on ramp 3 as well as the many nautical effects used, including some that rose quite high in the air after their launch before landing in the lake and transforming into nautical effects (similar to “tapieta” effect used by Parente in 2003).

The precision used in the firing was excellent both spatially and temporally, with perfect angles and perfect timing. Unfortunately a position failed intermittently on ramp 3 which occasionally spoiled the symmetry.

A good range of music was used, from serene modern-classical through to well-known classics by Bach and Pachebel. I had hoped that some of the piano music would have been note-synchronized in a way similar to the brilliant segment by Ricasa last year. Unfortunately, even though synchronization was always perfect, it somehow missed out on being connected to the music. Indeed, this is a criticism that can be made of the display as a whole. Some of the sequences were just too simplistic and repetitive and sometimes lacking in connection between the different levels in the display. Despite the large arsenal of very impressive shells, the sky was used more narrowly than we’ve become accustomed to in the recent past. I had noted in 2007 that the IP display that year reminded me of the glory days on the late 1990s. Unfortunately, this was the case with this display. It was very well executed but was missing some of the evolution in firing styles that have occurred in the very recent past.

The display ended with an impressive finale and, despite large smoke accumulation from time to time during the performance, the audience reacted with great enthusiasm and gave the team a well-deserved standing ovation.

I enjoyed the display, especially the really high quality products (from all manufacturers) but it didn’t quite meet my expectations. I’m sure the smoke didn’t help and this is always a risk and frustration in Montreal.

Innovative Pyrotechnik Soundtrack

By pyropaul July 17th, 2017, under Soundtrack

Pyro Rhapsodie

  1. Russian Dance – Tchaikovsky
  2. River Flows In You – Yiruma
  3. Echnaton – Philip Glass
  4. Coultergeist – Phil Coulter
  5. La Boda De Luis Alonso – Gerónimo Giménez
  6. Orchestral Suite No.3 (Air) – J.S. Bach
  7. L’Arlésienne Suite No. 2 – Georges Bizet
  8. Canon In D – Pachelbel
  9. Danza Final (Malambo) – Marquez
  10. Symphonie No. 3 Mother Earth:Cut – Johan de Meij

Interview with Team Innovative Pyrotechnik

By pyropaul July 17th, 2017, under Interview

I met with Joachim Berner, competing for the second time in Montreal with his company IP (Innovative Pyrotechnik), but appearing here for the 11th time, having assisted with Lünig Feuerwerk, Nico Feuerwerk (who had acquired Lünig), IPON, and San Tai over many years since the start of the competition in 1985.

Joachim told me his company had recently brought out an updated version of the ubiquitous PyroDigital field controller, as his company had purchased the rights at the beginning of the year from Pyrodigital Consultants. Ipon’s Gold-Jupiter winning display in 1997 was a landmark in the development of the pyromusical as it was the most complex display fired in Montreal up until that date and still remains in my top three displays ever witnessed in the competition. Joachim explained the challenge of having to use three laptops to contain the script, which was too large for the software at the time. Fast-forward to 2017 and the latest field controller is 15x faster than the previous versions and has 5x the capacity, while remaining backwards-compatible with all existing field controllers and firing modules.

Next Generation Pyrodigital Field Controller

For the display itself, Joachim said the term “Rhapsody” was used deliberately as the definition is a “work that is episodic yet integrated, free-flowing in structure, featuring a range of highly contrasted moods, colour and tonality”. Previously, Joachim has worked with mainly classical repertoire for pyromusicals but noted, this time, some of the pieces are by modern young composers such as Phil Coulter, Yiruma and Philip Glass. The soundtrack was put together by Joachim, but with some suggestions from his colleague Ulrich Fricke, who had suggested Echnaton by Philip Glass. The finale piece is from a modern opera composed by the Flemish composer Johan de Meij.

Joachim said the conception and design of the show took around four weeks, with several more weeks needed for the logistics to put it all together. He would have liked to come to Montreal more often, but due to the amount of work his company has it’s difficult.

The pyrotechnic material used comes from a variety of manufactures with Benito Pagano making some special 8-break shells with customized timing on the breaks to fit exactly to the music. IP also manufactured most of the products on ramp 3 (as well as shells) and other manufactures included Ricasa (Spain), San Tai (Taiwan), Nico (Germany), MP (California) for special comets that have a military name(!), and a small Chinese company of only 60 whose name I didn’t capture. Ipon (Italy) also manufactured many shells, including 21-bombette 200mm cylindrical shells. The largest calibres used in the show will be 250mm. Ramp 5 will not be used due to many special effects that will be on or over the lake. The show will have around 5500 cues.

Joachim Berner

Joachim was surprised to learn that the countries competing this year were selected by the public and was happy to hear that Germany was one of those on the list! WHen asked why people should attend, Joachim said that the audience will see a very special show with new effects and music not heard before in pyromusicals. Let’s hope the positive weather forecast persists!

Poland – July 15 – Surex

By pyropaul July 16th, 2017, under Reports

Just Fun

Designed by Jaroslaw Suzdalewicz and Sebastian Cwajna. FireOne firing with ~2500 cues.

A larger audience were treated to a summer-like evening in order to witness the Polish team’s second appearance in Montreal. Wind strength was moderate but directed somewhat towards the audience, though less so than was the case with the previous week’s Italian show.

The display began with angled mines and some photoflashes and was essentially non-stop through the entire 31 minutes 20 seconds. The soundtrack was flawlessly executed with twenty nine main pieces of music seamless and artistically edited together, sometimes with a theme from another song that wasn’t even listed as a way to bridge two segments together. This approach was much more artistic and creative than the one used by Surex in 2010. There was a good range of tempo throughout the display but it might have benefited from a few quieter moments to allow the audience to catch their breath.

The pyrotechnical material used was largely of high quality, with many effects shells such as studatas, farfalles, shells of serpents and mutli-colour changing shells. However, there was some repetition of “filler” shells, especially of the colour-dark-colour type. The firing angles used for both shells and ramp 3 ensured the sky was filled and appropriate space was given to the high-quality large-calibre shells used. The thirteen towers across ramp 3 allow horizontal shots left and right to be made close to the lake. A couple of flights of single and double-ascension girandolas were also well received by the audience.

To tie the fireworks into the soundtrack, large volleys of titanium salutes were fired during the “Titanium” segment and a fantastic “eye” made of sequenced one shots rose from ramp three as the lyric said “all eyes on us” during “Scream and Shout”, to amazement from the audience, though it only occurred once.

"Eye" - with thanks to Carl Desjardins

Many nautical effects were used as was the firing of bombette candles low over the lake directly towards the audience. The finale was very powerful and brought the audience to their feet at the end to give the Surex crew a well-deserved standing ovation.

This was an excellent display and a big improvement on their 2010 debut. Great use was made of all of the space, though there was a bit of repetition of effects from time to time and not the most creative firing sequences on ramp 3, though rather better than last week’s Italian entry. Given there are only six competitors this year, Surex are already a contender for a Jupiter – though there are still four strong competitors remaining!

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