What's The History Of Phish's Lights?

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Here's a history of the lights, in reverse. See also, info on Chris Kuroda, lighting manager.

Fall 1998 Updates (Large Spotlights and Spot Effects): There are some new lights in the rig and some new effects this tour. Across the back of the stage are eight enormous spotlights, usually white and pointed straight up, and only came on a few times per show, but they did turn some and they did look to have slatted color filters. Also, above the audience roughly midway between the stage and soundboard are two new beams, each holding three lights (possibly starbeams). These and the 4 (6) in the over-the-stage rig have a some new and coordinated effects, including one which makes the band appear to glow purple, a second which casts purple spots (with white dots circling the rim) onto the crowd, and a third which casts a set of groovy white circle-things on the crowd.

Early 1998 Updates (Cyberlights and StudioColors): In addition to 48 Starbeams (made by Alstar), Chris now has 24 Cyberlights (made by High-End Systems/Lightwave Research), and 24 Studio colors (previously misidentified as 6-8 TechnoBeams). Wallace Winfrey (8/20/98 and 8/28/98) "first noticed the new lights at the Denver shows last year, which means that they probably started using them on Fall '97 tour."

1997 Updates Note has been made of fascinating new mixes of colors, and possibly (but uncertain) equipment enhancements.

Backgroundless: In 1996, various shape filters and projections were added, but the larger changes came with the context in which the lights were shone. Mark Goldberg posted (1/14/96), "Chris and the band prefer no background [e.g. the minkins, as fabulous as they are] since they felt that it was distracting what was going on on stage where the real show is. Chris also felt that the light show is more challanging and true to the lights if that's what's used....the lights, not a back drop." However, [] emailed (10/98) that as of Lemonwheel, Chris was creating his own backdrops, with the lights: "After the first set first day, in which the stage was 'open-backed', during that intermission the crew put up a black plastic covering over the back of the stage. It could certainly have been coincidental and not his preference, but CK was doing ALL KINDS of totally Minkin-esque lighting work -ON- the backdrop, like it was part of the landscape. There were several extended periods of this on Saturday especially , where the exclusive focus on the lights was on the backdrop."

Oils Added: Mark Goldberg posted (also 1/14/96) that "since a few tours back, they have been piping in mineral oil from back stage to make the air thicker or heavier so the light refracts better. It makes a hell of a difference by outlining the boundaries of the lights' direction as intended. You may notice this as the smoke constantly billowing from the stage. Plus it's healthy for you! The only tunes that Chris actually uses smoke machines on is for Mike's Song, and Great Gig in the Sky I believe.

Fall 1995 (Leaps and Bounds): Beginning in the Fall of 1995, Chris' workmanship on the lights really took some huge steps, making leaps and bounds (by all accounts) in equipment or Chris' head or something, because the light show really started going nuts and blowing people's heads. The shows, too, began to explode (that fall tour is regarded as one of the strongest in Phishtory, with several classic shows), and the explosion in the light production emphasized the epic significance of these shows and what was happening at them.

Summer 1993 (Altstar and Starbeams): Paul "Cyclone" emailed (7/7/94), "I operated the Altstar system for Chris on the 1993 Summer Tour so I can answer any questions you all might have about the "moving" lights. I also previously worked for Theatrix, the supplier of the stationary lights, so send your questions my way.... The Altstar Starbeams are a "moving" or "automated" or "intellegent" lighting unit. They are comparable to Vari*Lites, which are the industry standard you might see on many other tours, including the Dead, and on TV. Intellabeams are another unit seen often at raves and clubs and on smaller tours. The key differences are the capabilities of the units. The Vari*Lite is a whole unit that tilts and pivots. The Intellabeam is stationary and has a single mirror in the beam of light that "wiggles" over about 120 degrees in an x and y direction. The Altstar is a stationary unit with TWO mirrors mounted in a periscope-like configuration that can spin the beam a full 360 degrees in either direction. It is much faster than the Vari and can move in continuous circles instead of having to oscillate. The Altstar has about 120 usable colors mixed by 3 wheels of dichroic (pure color) glass. Color changing can "roll" as in YEM or "snap" in 2/10 sec. There are 7 rotatable (variable speed, bi-directional) patterns and 7 stationary patterns which can overlay to create shimmering effects (as in the "stained glass" effect scanning at the beginning of the 2001 theme. Chris selects the patterns, including the Phish logos which were custom made. There is also a 2 to 1 zoom and focus, a dimming shutter, and an iris (beam size control). All the functions are independently contollable. In an improvisational tune like the YEM vocal solos, Chris can "play" the functions live in time with the music. For other complex looks, the functions are pre-arranged and recorded into cue sequences that can be played back with the touch of a button. This was used for the scanning color dots-upsweeping orange beams-snap open white for the 2001 theme bit that started many second sets in 1993. The stationary lights (PAR Cans) are controlled by a separate control board through a complete separate system. Usually, Chris would run the PAR cans, fog, strobes and would tell me what to do with the Altstars. ... Due to the jamming nature of the show and the band's tendency to wander from their setlist (yes, there's usually a "tentative" set list [reportedly not true for fall 1997]) and the complexity of the Altstar system, it was often a real challenge to have the right one out of 200 cues ready at the instant Chris wanted it." ... More on Alstar: Larry "the Lobster" Lieberman (product manager at Alstar) emailed to clarify, "Alstar is the name of our company. We supply all of the moving lights on the Phish tour. We have just completed our third tour with Phish. Phish and Blues Traveler have been the testing ground for the Starbeam (the moving light). Phish's lighting designer Chris Kuroda has contributed greatly to the design of the Alstar system. If it were not for Chris' unique lighting style and skill as a lighting designer, we could not stand behind our product with as much confidence as we do today. Alstar's system has run bug-free for the last three months. We plan on continuing our relationship with Phish and look forward to seeing you in the crowd. I would like to thank Chris Kuroda for taking the chance. I think it has paid off for everyone involved. If you have comments or questions about the Alstar system, you can address them to Altman Stage Lighting, 57 Alexander Street, Yonkers, NY, 10701, Attn: Roger Pujol.

Other Lights Links:

Thanks also to Bryan Barancik.

"Power corrupts. Absolutely power corrupts absolutely, but it also rocks absolutely, too." - Despair design

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