Lighting for Live Concerts
By Paul Dexter
Peculiar as it may be, and this is my personal observation after years of world-wide touring with some fairly prestigious productions, but most all R & D and proving ground for rigging, lighting, video and audio can be credited to Live Concert touring crews and the vendors that serve that industry.
In the early stages of production touring, an easier, faster idea to make equipment more compact and travel friendly evolved and eventually filtered through to be used in Broadway shows, film and television. Now, themed environments and many architectural designers incorporate the very same "theatrical" tricks and mobility features. For example, scenic facades, made from lightweight malleable materials instead of using permanent wood structure or concrete with labor intensive chipping and carving. Scenic can be dimensional, enhanced by theatrical lighting, enabling interiors to now change as fast as fashion changes, but with a fraction of the cost.
A New Era
In today's "transportable" live show marketplace, everything associated with it has become a sophisticated corporate business, which is modular and specialty driven. Once upon a time (in 1983), Vari-Lite developed the moving light market, then monopolized and owned the rental market for years after - it became an industry/household name. Today, anyone can buy moving lights from a plethora of different companies offering a vast array of price points and performance choice. The same applies to your choice of control; all of them containing micro chips and solid state circuitry, standard with DMX or Ethernet interface and capable of controlling thousands of channels by touch screens, enabling multimedia servers to cue alongside a light fixture, but with the same 'go' button.
So, instead of developing ideas on the road like the "old" days of early production touring, competition is fierce! Highly motivated companies are refining their specialty market wares to sell in the global marketplace. Yes, live concerts are certainly an entirely different animal than it used to be, but...
Technology - but... with Basics in Mind
...with all the technology-in-over-drive and availability, convenience to duplicate in international markets, lighting and multi-media designing still must adhere to basic design principals to create maximum dramatic effectiveness using contrast, continuity and above all, planning and timing of those effects.
I've witnessed, and perhaps you'll seen this too, whereby the moment the show starts, the lighting is moving and flashing to every beat and sound all at once. So extreme and unplanned and visually chaotic, it's clear as mud. The show's entire effect library reveals all the secret weapons, normally reserved for mid to late show impact, within the first five minutes. In instances like that, all contrast of color, light and dark, effects or no effects, disintegrates. The biggest and most welcome contrast then becomes the blackout at the end!
Business and Art
When it comes to Live Concerts and Stage Lighting, a broad understanding of the business, the marketplace and its relevance to art is an essential culmination needed to provide the foundation to create custom visual designs.
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