The Trans-Siberian Orchestra Celebrates The Holidays In A Blaze Of Lights, Lasers, And Pyro
Visual designer Bryan Hartley makes no bones about it: He has gone over-the-top for the 2007-2008 Trans-Siberian Orchestra (TSO) tour, his eighth outing with the group. The stage looks like a giant electrified erector set, with the cutting-edge lighting rig supplied by Q1 Production Technologies augmented by lasers, flames, and pyrotechnics designed by Hartley in conjunction with Doug Adams of Pyrotek Special Effects and Laser Design Productions. The tour opened on November 1 and runs through January 6.
What is unusual about TSO is that there are two identical shows touring on the East Coast and West Coast at the same time, each performing the band's unique blend of jazz, R&B, classical, rock, and Christmas carols within the framework of a Christmas Eve storyline, almost like a rock opera. “There are 13 trucks of gear,” says tour/production manager Elliot Saltzman, who adds that the trucks roll into a venue by 6am on a given day, and, by 12:30pm, the band is on stage for a sound check, set erected, lights focused, and everybody ready to rock 'n' roll for a 3pm matinee followed by an 8pm evening concert. Then it often all goes back into the truck for the same drill the next day (Mondays and Tuesdays are dark).
Starry, Starry Nights
Hartley designed and programmed the lighting, trusses, lasers, and video for the same show on the East Coast and West Coast. “After the first week of shows on the East Coast, I go out to the West Coast and implement my changes,” he says. While Hartley runs the Flying Pig Wholehog 3 console on the East Coast leg of the tour, Dan Cassar, now in his fifth year with TSO, serves as lighting director for the West Coast. “I love being out there and running the show. That's what I like best, the instant gratification,” says Hartley.
New to the lighting rig this year are Main Light Soft-LED curtains and many more Element Labs Versa Tubes (Hartley first added a few Versa Tubes last year), provided by XL Video in Los Angeles, who also provided the High End Systems Catalyst media servers that Hartley uses for a swirl of abstract images. Primarily, the Soft-LED drops — one on either side of the stage and an eyebrow — are used to create star fields that frame a crisp fiber-optic star curtain behind the band. “It is very much a lighting show,” says Hartley, who notes that Paul O'Neill, TSO founder (who Hartley has known for 25 years), does not want to use I-Mag. As a result, the video remains quite abstract, with Hartley using stock content from the Catalyst mixed with some custom content created by Nick Milletello.
Also new to the rig are 14 High End Systems Showgun fixtures, which Hartley has positioned at the center of each of 10 square pods of truss that move silently throughout the show. Four additional Showgun units hang, two each, on a pair of large rectangular trusses suspended over the audience. These trusses have stretched fabric panels that Hartley uses to project abstract light patterns during some of the songs.
The combination of moving lights, PARs (yes, PARs — Hartley explains that Paul O'Neill likes them, and they add an organic look to the lighting), and LEDs gives Hartley enough power to create different lighting looks for each song. “I have been using the same color choices for years,” says Hartley. “I go for very big, solid colors, rich red, blue, and green and usually only two or three colors at the same time with some white. I don't use a lot of colors or go for a party look.” He does, however, use incredibly bold color combinations, with purple and amber, red and green (of course, it's a Christmas show, and TSO sings “Joy To The World” in a blaze of red and green), chrome yellow, and bright blue to pump color onto the truss, which often glows as if illuminated from inside. Powerful 5kW Syncrolites, some placed on the stage floor, some on the overhead trusses, add punch to a rig that also includes automated fixtures by Martin and Vari-Lite.
In addition to the 10 individually moving pods, the set includes five upright trusses with arms of Versa Tubes that look like chevrons. Show Group Production Services (SGPS/Show Rig) built all of the custom and moving trusses and pods, with the automation for the cable winches run by Jesse Sugumoto from FOH, with spotters on stage. “In one song, there is just a singer and piano on stage. The lighting rig moves down, and as the singer starts ‘Hark The Herald Angels Sing,' there is total silence in the crowd,” says Hartley. “Then the pods move into a big frown position, and you can't hear them move. It's a fantastic moment.”
Craig Redden of Q1 supervises the packaging and construction of the lighting rig, as many of the lights are pre-hung in pods and travel that way in the trucks, shaving precious time off the load-ins. “The pods open and flip up to go right into the trucks,” Hartley explains. Q1 also does custom welding, such as adding the Versa Tube arms to the truss.
Redden has been involved with TSO for at least seven years, since the days he worked for Westsun, Q1's predecessor. “Bryan's designs are challenging because, generally, he is pushing outside of the standard creative box. He can see the entire concept in his mind, long before it has made it to the stage,” explains Redden. “At Q1, we discuss the concept with Bryan, embrace his vision, and then pull out all of the stops in order to get that design on stage, efficiently and on budget. We meet all of Bryan's needs with a great deal of effort by a group of people who truly enjoy the business they are in, ‘show business.'”
Hartley preprogrammed the show over the summer. “I was out on tour with Velvet Revolver and took my own Wholehog 3 console and ESP Vision pre-visualization software,” he explains. “This is the first year we are using the Wholehog 3 for TSO. I worked on the programming for a month-and-a-half in advance and was way ahead when we got to rehearsals.”
It's Beginning To Look A Lot Like Lasers
“The lasers and pyro are integrated with the lighting,” says Adams, president of Pyrotek Special Effects and Laser Design Productions, two divisions of the same company. Adams works closely with Hartley on the designs: if Hartley asks for a war scene during a certain song, Adams comes up with the pyro effects. “Once Bryan picks a color palette for a song, I match it or complement it. Sometimes, he blacks out all together or goes to UV. It's amazing to work with him,” says Adams.
Adams has a 5W full-color diode laser behind the drummer, with two green YAG lasers on each side of the stage and one green YAG laser on a lift behind the lighting console in the center of the arena floor. This placement allows for wide fans of crisscrossing laser beams in the air. “There are laser scanners built into the beams to create effects and animated patterns,” says Adams. “It's like Etch-A-Sketch in the sky.”
Hartley runs the lasers through the Wholehog 3 using MIDI to trigger the Pangolin laser control system. “I write some of the effects to time code in the music,” Adams explains. “It's all incredibly synchronized.”
For the pyro side of things, colored flames on stage are ignited by a propane mix then burn an alcohol-based fluid with non-toxic dyes, and “dragons,” that Adams first built for Metallica 15 years ago, which breathe clouds of orange fire. “We aim the dragons between the trusses and away from the performers and the star drops,” he says. “All of the pyro is layered and strategically placed on stage.”
The real heat comes from three propane heads and six nitro-cellulose flame projectors located on a scissor-lift behind the lighting console. These spew large flames into the air, and those sitting nearby can really feel the temperature rise. There are another dozen flame projectors going off on stage at the same time, some in red and green for the Christmas spirit of the show. The pyro has its own control system, with four pyro techs and two laser techs on each leg of the tour.
The pyro design reflects the overall look for the show. “TSO plays classical music with heavy-metal overtones, so we gave the production a heavy-metal edge,” says Adams. He notes that they meet with the fire marshall in every city on the tour, having applied for a permit in advance, and take every possible safety precaution for all the indoor pyrotechnics.
“There are over 500 pyro effects in the show,” Adams notes, pointing out that pyro pinwheels spin in front of a gold “copper oxide inverted gerb” waterfall effect, and animated pyro patterns run upstage of the band like bullets in space. “The goal was to create a sense of excitement and punctuation marks in the show. When you least expect it, something else happens.”
TSO TOUR GEAR
Lighting Gear (combined, East and West Coast tours)
4 Flying Pig Systems Wholehog 3 Console
4 High End Systems Catalyst Media Servers
900 Element Labs Versa TUBE
120 Martin MAC Wash
120 Vari-Lite VL3000
12 Vari-Lite VL3500
28 High End Systems Showgun
24 Syncrolite 5kW SXB-5/2
208 Martin Atomic Strobe
600 Color Kinetics ColorBlast
16 Panels Main Light Soft-LED
Laser Gear (for each tour)
1 5W full-color diode laser
2 3W green Yag lasers
3 5W green Yag laser
6 Custom Laser Projectors
Pangolin laser control system
Special Effects Gear
114 Le Maitre Silver Gerb
14 Next FX Red Flame Projector
14 Next FX Green Flame Projector
61 Next FX Airburst
25 Next FX Red Flare
21 Next FX Yellow Ultra Fast Comet
49 Gold Gerb Waterfall Effect
52 Mines and Comet
15 Silver Gerb
7 Pyrotek Cryo Jet Head
7 Pyrotek Double Headed Dragon
10 Pyrotek Colored Flame Unit
2 Le Maitre G300 Mark II Fog Machine
2 Le Maitre LSG MKII Low Smoke Generator
PARTIAL TOUR CREDITS
TSO founder/producer: Paul O'Neill
Director of touring/production: Elliot Saltzman
Lighting, video, truss design: Bryan Hartley
Production design: Bryan Hartley, Elliot Saltzman
Production managers: Patrick Whitley, Jeff Boguski
Lighting system: Craig Redden, Q1 Production Technologies
Lasers: Doug Adams, Laser Design Productions
Pyrotechnics: Doug Adams, Pyrotek Special Effects
Custom & moving truss: Brian E. White, Eric Pearce, SGPS/ShowRig
Video gear: John Wiseman, XL Video LA
Syncrolites: Jack Calmes, Jimmy Page
Stage set: Patrick Whitley, Touring Resources
Rolling stages: Bob Hughes, All Access Staging
Sound engineer: Dave Wittman
Stage technicians: Kyle Sabel, Chris Lepurage, Imy James
Lighting crew chief: Tim Solar
Moving truss crew chief: Jesse Sugumoto
Head rigger: Ken Mitchell
Head carpenter: Dale Bryant
Laser crew chief: Jason McEachern
Pyro crew chief: Tristan Ford
Video crew chief: Kenny Ackerman