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How important is lighting and video to performance?


CraigG

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Perhaps a bit of a controversial one here, but something I'm interested in people's opinions on.

 

Obviously IMAG is important in larger venues for audience to see the acts, and in theatre lighting does play a big part in setting the mood. But beyond the necessary illuminating of the act, especially for rock 'n' roll type concerts, how much do you think lighting and AV content matters? How much do blinders and strobes get the audience going, or would they start jumping with the drop anyway? Would they notice, or more importantly care, if all those carefully crafted beam looks weren't there? Does having operated lighting actually make a punter actively consider a gig better than if LX was just running on sound2light? For example, in my view people enjoy festival performances in the day when lighting effects aren't that visible comparably to when it is dark.

 

Don't get me wrong, I'm a lighting tech myself, I'm not putting down my own art and I feel it does play a part, and certainly to our eyes at least proper lighting looks infinitely better, just wanna know what you lot think?

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In terms of Lighting, if you take a sound which has a prominent beat or music stab and you try two scenarios, first time with workers and no lighting or video and then with a lighting rig which then snaps colour/int/focus/position ect, then take a look at the audience reaction.

 

IMHO, light is important, 1st as you have answered yourself, it illuminates the act. 2nd, lighting is a sense which can trigger emotions and feelings and is exactly the same in a 50 seat theatre or a 50,000 arena the scale of it just changes to accommodate.

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How about this for a concept:

In a small pub venue we can read the emotions of the band directly as we have good sight lines. As venues get progressively larger the audience become more remote from the performers, and thus also from their emotions and communication. As this connection lessens we need to restore it using production elements, such as scenery, lighting or IMAG.

Even during daylight most festivals use some sort of 'eye candy' setup, often LED recently.

 

Not sure it's my only view on the subject, but an interesting concept nonetheless.

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A club I used to work in received a great many complements when the lighting desk died during a show and all they could do was set a look manually on what they could reach in the floor package, everything in the air stayed off for the rest of the night.
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I've always maintained that the job of a lighting designer is essentially to mess with people's subconscious. We have an enormous power to influence how an audience views and reacts to something on a fundamental level, without any conscious realisation on the most part. While I apply that principally to theatre, I think it's just as relevant in others areas of the industry. Lighting can offer strong support to the music - in setting a mood, emphasising the right bits, and generally encouraging the correct reaction from the audience.

 

Also, I believe it comes down to expectation. People see the 'big' looks of large-scale TV such as X-Factor while sitting on their couch, and they expect to see that on other gigs. While they aren't going to go see a show because of the pretty lighting, they'll damn well notice if it's not there. I've encountered that recently in lighting what was essentially a small-scale concert in a theatre - with that genre of show, people are expecting an 'arena-sized' look, and the absence of it detracts from the show.

 

So in short, I think lighting (and video) is incredibly important to live events of all genres. The fact that we're still being paid (in some cases significant amounts of) money to light shows seems to suggest that Producers believe that lighting and other visual elements are pretty important to their shows.

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I think Mark hit the nail on the head: audience expectations.

 

Look at footage of Beatles concerts and the hysteria in the crowd, and not a single coloured light insight.

 

I always approached lighting design as supporting the emotions of the music, the play, choreography, etc.

And I have started noticing that for me if the lighting doesn't meet the emotions it is quite distracting, think an over the top chase during a very slow ballad.

Unfortunately with equipment becoming cheaper and more and more stuff is preprogrammed in desks, everyone is a lighting designer. And too often the lighting doesn't support the content at all.

And don't get me started on video, that is an insult to any lighting designer.

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On a major televised rock event the second stage headline was lit by a mate who took one look at the blitz of colours and beams and God knows what from the main stage and stopped the show with a dozen moving heads in purely open white.

 

Sometimes less is more and form is content. Dynamics are crucial and empathy essential. "Turn it all on and flash it!" is possibly the worst sort of lighting and even some reputable designers use too much for my tastes.

 

Bottom line? Nobody ever bought a ticket to sit and watch the lights or admire the PA hangs. We are support staff employed to make someone else shine.

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Not just music events of course. Exactly the same arguments come up with dance and theatre. If somebody does Shakespeare in a city street, do the audience appreciate it as much as doing Midsummer Nights Dream in a real glade with trees and grass? Do the few lights that take over make the event 'nicer' as the sun sets? Does dance in a dance studio work as well as when it's got lighting and better sound to replace the cheap hi-fi going lat out? Is Glastonbury mid afternoon better as a punter than the night time sets? Does a posh picture frame improve the picture in it? It only fails when the embellishments are better than the actual product. A rubbish band with mega gizmos is still a rubbish band. If these things make you enjoy the event better, they're fine in my book.
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And don't get me started on video, that is an insult to any lighting designer.

 

Not when done well, with some thought it becomes a seamless part of the lighting - I've seen some great integration between video and lighting.

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With certain types of lighting there's a visceral, physical effect on the audience. I love Molefays, and one of my fondest show memories is from a dance event we covered in an ice rink a few years back. It wasn't an enormous show, maybe 500 or so punters, but a reasonably generous budget and plenty of power available.

 

The show built up slowly, with the first DJ really playing more of a warm up set, then he started gradually building. There was a long crescendo, then as the first beat came in on a fresh track, I hit the submaster that flashed 80kW of Molefays. As well as the light, you get a blast of heat off them too. The crowd erupted, and the grin on the DJs face was something to behold. Would they have reacted the same way if I hadn't thrown all that light and heat at them? Possibly. But the combination of everything - the sub-bass from the PA, the light, the heat, the atmosphere, all combined. They perhaps wouldn't have articulated it the same way we would, but I'm sure the punters at least mentioned the lighting in passing after the event.

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I just watched a video of a performance by Atoms for Peace that was lit only with video backdrop. Tarik Barri did the live video projection. On his site, under the tag "Why" he includes this bit about the seamless integration of audio and visuals. Of course the same can be said about audio and lights or all three together but done in a way that it appears as one thing.

 

 

Tarik Barri: 'For example, when we see a bird whistling we don't normally tend to think “Hey that's a nice sound! Hey that's a nice image! What a lucky treat that these two sensations which are in no way whatsoever related to eachother should coincide!”. Also quite unlikely would be the thought: "Hey, the way these visuals and this audio go together is really nice and well constructed!". More likely, we'll think “That's a nice bird which produces both this image and this sound.”... or actually, even MORE likely is that we'll simply think “Bird”.'

 

On a more practical note, when I see a bunch of cell phone cameras go up at the same time, I know I've hit a look that resonates. The audience is not reacting to one element of the show but to the total experience.

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IMO and only that! At a small intimate concert I don't care whether the act is lit by high bay warehouse lights, I'm watching the band and listening to it. However past about 100 in the audience and the show usually needs something to cover for the loss of detail in the sound and the vision, Beyond about 2500 in the audience and the systems are needed to ensure that everyone can see and hear.
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On a tour I was on a while back I used to make the hairs on my own back stand up and have a wave of emotion roll over me as the song progressed and that was with me knowing what was coming because I was operating!

 

there has also been times as a punter at festivals where blinders and huge amounts of stobes have given me something similar to a sensory overload which leaves you thinking what the **** just happened!

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Not just music events of course. Exactly the same arguments come up with dance and theatre. If somebody does Shakespeare in a city street, do the audience appreciate it as much as doing Midsummer Nights Dream in a real glade with trees and grass? Do the few lights that take over make the event 'nicer' as the sun sets?

 

<snip>

 

Funny you should mention that. Some years back I worked on a promenade-style production of A Midsummer Night's Dream staged in the gardens of a nice school. They actually timed the start of the show so Act 1 happened in daylight with sunset happening during the intermission. Act II was staged with the help of fairly simple lighting. If you think of the play, Act I is "reality" (well as real as a Shakespearean comedy gets) while Act II is the dream. The transition from daylight to artificial light--even very simple artificial light--really helped to make the point that the show had moved into a dream.

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