We do our most important work like elves.
During the day, we work with wrenches, screwdrivers, and meters. We tweak the design, change bulbs, re-assign dimmers...hardware stuff. We're in the company of band gear guys, the set carpenter, runners, and various other production types. This project has more than a dozen people onstage during the show; players, dancers, and the Funky Divas from Oakland who are En Vogue. During the day, the entire entourage makes this old (1914) silent film stage a very busy place.
K.C. and Greg, the backline gearheads, occupy a dressing room jammed with electronics racks, keyboards, computers, cables, connectors, soldering gear, and guitars. They shuttle gear and floppy disks back and forth to the stage. They do things that we don't know anything about, except when we hear an occasional blast of sound from the monitors announcing a new keyboard patch or DAT run.
David and Scott (known to us as the "Buttata-Heads") work the sound rig. We don't know what they do, the almost traditional, invisible walls between sound and lights people being what they are. However, they work quite hard with tapes, patches, mixes, microphones, and who knows what other sorts of hum-head stuff, all day long.
Our set carpenter, Bernie, will rend the air with a screeching power saw, or drop a drape truss directly into our sightlines from time to time... He's doing a good job, so we deal with it in good humor. He also is quite diligent about not compromising a team effort, clearing every intrusive move with everybody before he proceeds.
The Divas, dancers, and players, come in and run through their sets with their minds on their business: crisp and clean with no wierd attitudes. The process known as "blocking" (mapping out dance moves on the stage) can be very tedious and tiresome. These people do it with smiles. They take their notes and correct their moves or suggest changes during breaks.
The whole head here is very co-operative. When it's time for people to go home they are tired, but they smile at each other. We know because we're here when they leave.
Normally, everyone is gone by 10:00 pm. Then, the lighting elves come out and work their magic.
The tools of the evening include a tape machine, coffee pot, ash trays, a 90 channel Avo control desk, WordPerfect in laptops for managing cue data, 8-bit Intellabeam controllers, smoke machines, close proximity so we can yell at or high-five each other, and complete darkness and quiet.
Quiet, so we can manage our own sound: the pre-production rehearsal tape of the band's live set.
Darkness, so we can manage our own light: 200 fixed-focus instruments of 1000 watts each (24 with digitally controlled color changers), and 12 Intellabeam robotic instruments capable of changing focus (position), color, intensity, and gobo in programmed sequences. This basic platform is augmented with strobes, several species of drape for catching and/or diffusing light, small light strings built into the set, and many other little gags which serve as important embellishments to the basic design.
Rob Savage of Light & Sound Design (LSD) serves as our Master Electrician. He manages the dimming and power distribution systems.
Dino Derose is our interpretive liason between the actual designer and us. As Lighting Director, he paints the pictures.
Bill Reeves is the Production Manager. With many years of experience in the field, he sets the vision of the show. What his imagination sees in the music is what we render.
David "Duck" Burns drives the Avo desk. He builds broad, full looks with the conventional (fixed-focus) lamps. He dims them in and out (to various levels of intensity) in combinations carefully selected for color and position, with special attention to tempo. The right fade, at the right speed, at the right time. As each cue is constructed, it is saved in the Avo's digital memory.
I drive the Intellabeams. The Avo desk is almost six feet long, with three sets of 90 faders in the preset section, and another 48 in the master section. The Intellabeam controller is only 2 1/2 square feet in area, and there is not a single fader on it. Everything I do is processed digitally: a fade is pre-programmed, and then executed with the press of a button.
The Intellabeams are an extension of the revolution of moving lights. Vari*Lite (Dallas) started it all, over ten years ago, when they put the VL-1 out on the Genesis tour. They were an instant sensation: lighting instruments that could move under precise digital control. They took a lamp and moved it with servo motors in two axes (pan and tilt). They also controlled color. The Vari*Lite has undergone four design changes since, and it is still the big dog in the moving light market. However, about five years ago, a French company called Telescan got into the game with a completely different concept. Instead of moving the entire lamp, they moved a mirror in front of the lens. This resulted in a very fast instrument. Lightwave Research of Austin, Texas has developed a similar device in this country. The Intellabeam has seen extensive service in dance clubs, but was long regarded as underpowered for concert applications. It has been re-designed, and now represents a serious challenge to Vari*Lite's market share.
I control 12 of them on this show. A dozen instruments may not seem a very important componant in a show with over 200 conventional lamps. But when they move to a new target very precisely, strobe, cycle through colors, project patterns, etc., they can be very dramatic.
Every I-Beam cue must be very carefully programmed. Each instrument must be individually focused with a joystick, and assigned color, iris, and pattern attributes. Speed of motion must be recorded. A sequence of cues which appears to flow seamlessly throughout a song can require very complex programming. Yesterday, I spent 90 minutes programming a cue involving 6 instruments whip-cracking a chair positioned downstage left, in time to the motion of a dance move. The cue runs less than 3 seconds in real time.
We have more than 150 cues written so far. Not all of them take as much time to write. Often, I can copy a previously written cue (position, for instance), and modify its positions and colors. However, the last four days have averaged 18 hours each. The front half of the day involves various hardware hacks. Then, the elves come out.
Last night we worked up a tune called (may God strike me down if I'm making this up) "Free Your Mind". It is a thundering rock groove of the sort that naturally lights up Duck and I. We sat at the mix with Dino, listening to the tape and looking at the stage. Dino was a bit tired, and he gave us only general direction. Duck and I listened to him, but this particular song has much more of our own initiative in it than anything else so far.
It took us about 2 hours to get it in the bag. Toward the end, we had a very cool synergy going on. As I stepped through my moves, I could almost feel the pressure of Duck's hand on his faders: the timing of his fades was connected to the timing of my steps through the image of our light falling on the stage in truly rhythmic composition. He left holes in his looks for my moves, and I stilled my motion in time for his accent slams.
Dino looked at it, and didn't say too much. As he walked out of the room he had a smile on his face. He returned about 10 minutes later with Bill Reeves.
I started my intro chase...
Let it suffice to say that they liked what they saw. I felt a tinge of performance anxiety;the adrenaline raced just a bit at showing Bill something that he hadn't seen yet, from start to finish. Everybody knew that "Free Your Mind" will rock under these lights.
We had about 50% of the show in memory. Being Sunday night, we decided to go back to the hotel and make a weekend of it. After all, it was 1:00 am....
...About 3 hours earlier than we normally break.
We were back at 10:00 am today. By 8:00 pm, we'll be lights elves again, until the hand grenade hour.
August 31, 1992
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