The Farmington Hills-based international music and sound production company Yessian Music can now add “Vegas residency” to its repertoire of experiential sound design projects around the world.
Having started out working with local advertising agencies and the automotive industry to produce TV commercials and industrial films, the company has spread its wings to participate in high-profile ad campaigns and attractions from Detroit to Dubai. One of their most notable collaborations was composing thematic music for each phase of the experience at the One World Observatory atop the One World Trade Center in New York City.
Now their work has taken them to Las Vegas, where they created a 30-minute music and sound design narrative montage to open Aerosmith’s new residency show, “Deuces are Wild,” at the Park Theater at the Park MGM resort.
Planning for the show started over a year ago, says Chief Compliance Officer Brian Yessian. Pixomondo, a VFX company based in Los Angeles that Yessian has frequently collaborated with on attractions, mentioned that they would be working with design and production studio Fireplay on this new Aerosmith show. Fireplay produces live shows, including concerts for names like Justin Timberlake and major events like the Super Bowl, all over the world. Yessian set up a creative call with Fireplay and they hit it off.
In January, Yessian was given the green light to do the project, but there was one small catch: They had just two months to put together a 30-minute show mixing several decades’ worth of audio and video recordings documenting the entire history of the band.
“The idea behind the pre-show is that there is so much in there, whether you’re a fan or someone who just knows the hits, there’s something for everybody,” says Jeff Dittenber, sound designer for Yessian. “By the time it’s done, you know the story of the band. You get to hear so many other new things you’ve never heard before, and you hear the music in a very different way.”
It was no small task.
“We were dealing with a legendary band with a long career that’s got an enormous amount of assets, but knew we have to be very careful with it,” says Gerard Smerek, executive producer for Yessian. “It’s historical documentation and it’s going to live beyond us. So where to start?”
It meant a lot of material gathering — nearly 50 years’ worth of recordings that included Aerosmith’s 15 studio albums, music masters, unmixed songs, raw multitracks, deep cuts, old television interviews that only exist on VHS tape, podcasts, radio interviews, appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and other archival items long since out of print.
“It was countless hours of music, really, and dialogue from interviews. That’s the other half of telling the story — to help guide the listener through what that song or piece of music means,” Dittenber says. “We had interviews, B-roll footage … hours and hours of archival materials.”
As they sifted through materials, Yessian started to pick out pieces of music and behind-the-scenes dialogue that they could weave together in a new kind of way to showcase the band’s story.
“We isolated pieces that could tell this story in a quick and concise way,” Dittenber says. “We wanted this to feel like dialogue and music weaving in and out from each other that highlight what that (song or story) meant at the time for (that band member).”
“It was important for us not to do a news broadcast,” adds Smerek. “We really wanted it to be music-driven, which speaks so much to the eras themselves, and then parallel the music to each guy’s life story.
“When you hear the story about the lake (lead singer Steven) Tyler visited growing up, it becomes evident why he wrote ‘Seasons of Wither.’ We weaved it all together in such a way where we didn’t have to be literal with it, but where you get the whole idea of why we weaved it that way. It was almost like painting a mural.”
Smerek describes the final effect as “almost dreaming” — blending elements together from different albums and eras to create a more abstract and artful montage, “like you were seeing Aerosmith the next day and this was the dream you had that night, the images and times and moment.”
That was precisely the effect Tyler wanted.
“Steven wanted it to be as immersive and exciting as possible,” explains Yessian mixer Scotty Gatteno. “He says he wanted it to feel like ‘an LSD trip on Aerosmith.’ He says he wanted the audience to feel like they’re getting high with Aerosmith before the show.”
Gatteno says that the sound system at the Park Theater is unique in that it’s an immersive audio system akin to what’s used for theme park installations. The complicated surround sound system also allowed Yessian to include environmental sound design — recreating certain sounds that match the dialogue, like including birds and helicopters as Tyler talks about Woodstock, and also moving those sounds around the room.
Aerosmith loved the work so much they gave Yessian a standing ovation when they first heard it. Brian Yessian reiterated Tyler’s comments: “You guys really got us and really got what we’re about.”
This 30-minute experience was meant to be a pre-show, to be played as people took their seats. However, the band loved it so much that it became their opening act so that patrons are already in their seats to fully enjoy the immersive experience.
“It’s really the highest challenge and compliment, pleasing an artist,” Smerek says. “Think about your life without a certain song that affected you at a certain time: This is what artists do. We have to protect that.
“These are golden pieces that have to be treated correctly. And then to please someone like that who’s listening so closely is just the best feeling.”
Aerosmith: Deuces are Wild is now playing at the Park Theater in Las Vegas with dates through December 2019.