What do you think are the big up-and-coming trends in lighting design for live events?
I’m not sure, really. There seems to be an arms race of making forever brighter lights which worries me a little. Brighter isn’t necessarily better, and it makes creating a balanced look more difficult.
The lower cost of newer lights is exciting. Goldfrapp have just toured theaters with 60 moving lights, on a budget that would have rented 12 a decade ago.
Live event sustainability is becoming a hot topic. Is this something you try to bear in mind when choosing your lighting set-ups?
Increasingly yes, although not always for tree hugging reasons I’m afraid.
LED sources draw less power but also maintain consistency across their lifetime. Arc sources (the traditional gas discharge lamps) need a lot of maintenance and lamp adjustment to stay at a consistent brightness, but LEDs stay the same.
I’ve recently started using LED strobes to keep the power requirements down, particularly on US tours where the 120v supply causes trouble. I’m growing to like the new strobes, although you lose the analogue warmth that you get from a high voltage tube decaying against a reflector.
Other than power draw and longevity, are there any particular aesthetic benefits to using LEDs over analogue lights?
Primary colors are far brighter and more vibrant with LED sources. With the first generation of LEDs the white range suffered a lot, but this has been much improved with the addition of amber and white sources into the color mixing. It’s starting to become difficult to distinguish between tungsten and LED for a lovely, flattering warm skin tone.
Which methods do you use to connect the audience to the music by way of the lighting?
It all comes back to music.
We spend a lot of time listening and programming cues to support the peaks, troughs and drama of the music. There are endless late night arguments about whether a cue is appropriate, if it builds correctly, if it gives us enough space to go somewhere new later in the song, if it feels right, if the colors work.
We try to help take the audience on the emotional journey of the band’s set by showing them what they need to see when they need to see it, by creating the right atmosphere and cueing the appropriate dynamic shifts.
There’s a lot of power in cues that envelop the stage and the audience. Simple blasts of floor level backlight, for example, can really connect the action on stage with the crowd.
What do you make of the trend towards combining audience interaction with luminous textiles? What would you like to be able to do in this vein that isn’t yet feasible?
It’s all very exciting and I’ve found myself thinking and talking about it a lot.
We’ve rejected a lot of ideas that involve fiddling with phones, installing apps and that would not have 100% reliability throughout the whole audience every night.
The key, where Coldplay and Arcade Fire both succeeded, is to create something that the audience can instinctively understand and enjoy. Any sort of instructions or complexity would interfere with the experience, and it needs to be obviously inclusive for the whole crowd.
We all loved the Olympics and personally I was completely blown away by the use of the audience as a giant screen. It was unexpected and beautiful.
We’ve been talking a lot about how to do this in touring situations. Adapting that sort of effect to different rooms and moving the infrastructure around to do it is really hard.
I’ve also kicked around some other interactive ideas but the big problems are audience workload and inclusivity. We can’t isolate people and we have to remember that they are having a night out and so can’t be burdened with complex instructions.
For example: the mobile phone would seem to be the best way to turn the crowd into a lightshow but it fails on two crucial points. Firstly making people install apps is annoying and requires internet access and secondly you have to have an expensive phone to take part. What should be a communal experience becomes an elitist tech nightmare.
The genius of the Coldplay bands was in their simplicity. Everyone gets one and all they have to do is put the bracelet on, enjoy the show, forget it’s there and we turn it on to surprise and delight you.
How has new technology given you more (or different) options for lighting at live events?
New technology is always interesting and moves the thought process in different directions, but whatever the tools we always ask the same questions. Does this feel right for this point in this piece of music? The art and the aesthetic must always come before the tools. Everything is led by lighting rather than lights. It’s a subtle distinction but an important one.
If money and imagination were no object, are there any examples of things you’d like to do with interactive lighting elements, outside of a specific artist context?
The ability to run complex chases (automated flashing lights) across the audience and over handheld devices would be great. The ‘Olympic’ effect, but in any venue, and able to reconfigure dynamically to the density and movement of the crowd.
Anything that can create chaos, move to order and back to chaos.
What is your dream for lighting design in the future? What do you wish you could do that technically isn’t feasible yet?
Sadly I do actually dream about lighting. I think mainly I’d like to be able to break the laws of physics and stop light beams in mid-air. Unfortunately I don’t think I’ll be able to manage that quite yet.