|By Howard Stutz, Las Vegas
Review-JournalMcClatchy-Tribune Regional News
Sep. 11, 2008 - In redeveloping The Mirage's volcano, designers quickly realized they needed more than just some high-tech pyrotechnic enhancements to return the 20-year-old Strip-front mountain to its landmark status.
The job called for the talent of Grateful Dead drummer Mickey Hart.
Joining with musician Zakir Hussain of India, the pair composed a percussion-influenced musical score that will become part of an audio and visual display when the redesigned Mirage volcano is unveiled in December.
"Here's where technology, art and music can come together in updating the artistry of Las Vegas," said Hart, a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and a Grammy award-winning composer.
The $25 million volcano face-lift is being designed by WET, the firm that developed the Fountains of Bellagio.
When completed, The Mirage volcano will erupt every hour in a 41/2-minute show. Water will shoot some 120 feet above the mountain and 120 fireball-throwing devices will be choreographed to the musical score provided by Hart and Hussain.
Technological advances will allow the volcano to be presented in a more realistic setting than was possible when it was created. Steam will pour from the sides of the mountain, water will flow down the crags of the exterior with fire and flames sprouting through the openings. The largest fireshooter will send flames soaring more than 60 feet above the Strip. A state-of-the-art sound system will be added.
"The volcano will be much more than it had ever been," said Jim Doyle of Sun Valley, Calif.-based WET. He said the entire mountain was stripped down to its steel structure and re-skinned. The choreographed fire display will be close enough to the pedestrian audience that onlookers will "feel the heat."
When it was introduced in 1989, the volcano literally stopped Strip traffic, both automobile and pedestrian, during its two-minute shows that featured cascading water, red lights to replicate flowing lava, and shooting flames enhanced with piña colada scents that masked the smell of natural gas.
But the advent of live pirateship battles at Treasure Island and the Bellagio's choreographed fountains set to music outdated The Mirage volcano.
Even casino developer Steve Wynn, who built The Mirage for a then-unheard-of price of $630 million, said the volcano had run its course.
"There comes a moment when this type of fixed public entertainment gets stale. You need to draw back the wonderment and the idea needs to be freshened with a whole different approach," said Wynn, now chairman of Wynn Resorts Ltd. He sold Mirage Resorts in 2000 to the then-MGM Grand Corp. for $6.4 billion.
"(WET CEO) Mark Fuller will really juice it up," Wynn said.
Hart and Hussain researched how a volcano would sound and feel to the viewer to create an impressionistic soundtrack that contains seven movements, starting with the prelude to the eruption and ending with a calming aftermath. Hart said dozens of percussion instruments from around the world helped create the musical sounds.
Hussain said a presentation like The Mirage volcano is normally choreographed to a licensed piece of music, such as the Bellagio fountain display, which runs to both classical pieces and popular songs.
"This is one of the first instances where a piece of music has been specially commissioned for a display like this," Hussain said. "In a way, that's unique."
The 2,765-room Mirage has undergone a $100 million room redesign while new restaurants and features have been added in the past three years.
"The Mirage must deliver trendsetting attractions that excite and entertain, giving our guests a reason to visit again and again," Mirage President Scott Sibella said.
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