PAUL NORMANDALE USES A SATURATED PALETTE AND UNUSUAL UNITS ON THE EXCITER TOUR

After a hiatus of several years, Depeche Mode has returned to the concert stage with a high-energy show that packs a visual punch. Sharon Stancavage went behind the scenes with the lighting designer, Paul Normandale.

Sharon Stancavage: How did you get involved with Depeche Mode?

Paul Normandale: I was approached by the production coordinator, Lee Charteris, who expressed an interest in my résumé and asked if I was interested in being considered for Depeche Mode's forthcoming tour. Thereafter I met Anton Corbijn, who did the show's set design and video conception, and we discussed the early-stage concepts and ideas.

SS: What were your initial thoughts on the lighting rig?

PN: The lighting rig could not interfere with the projection elements of the production, given the pivotal nature of the video element, and its place in the culture of Depeche Mode live. The set design had a distinctive curved plan view, and this I felt should be reflected in the lighting truss layout, but the unobtrusive plane of the lights did prompt me to ponder, very early on, the idea of different levels for non-video songs, with moving elements and custom elements in empathy with the clean visual lines of the set.

SS: Are there any specific challenges in making the lighting work hand-in-hand with the projection?

PN: The projection is first and foremost. Color-wise, we used heavy saturates in the video songs and in the art stands. We had total color control with the [Morpheus] ColorFaders on the spotlights, which provided added interest and minimum spill. We tried to add color to the black-and-white footage, except on “Black Celebration,” where the strong abstract nature of the footage meant we locked into the feel as opposed to contrasting the imagery.

SS: You have a huge white projection screen upstage. Did that cause any lighting issues?

PN: The screen, as part of the essential set design, needed to be addressed and it looked fairly messy unlit, so we lit it. The scale and the special nature of the projection, I think, fully justified its presence. In terms of design, I just needed to clear the physicality of the screen, which was a question of trim.

SS: How did your plot develop?

PN: The plot was locked in very early and, once we had it established, final band positions in rehearsals remained a constant. The set design and video elements were known factors from the outset.

SS: Why did you choose a curved truss configuration?

PN: The curved truss offered a dimension of positions--front-, rear-, and sidelight from a range of focus positions--in a minimum amount of space.

SS: Why did you choose Martin and High End gear?

PN: The Martin MAC 2000 is the brightest light in its class, which we used in conjunction with several gobo overlays in dark colors. The Studio Beam PC from High End is the wash light--there's 21 in the rig--that's the instrument of choice in an arena trim. Both units have proved very, very reliable.

SS: How did you balance the conventional lights with the moving lights?

PN: The contemporary moving light now represents both workhorse and special, and I wander into the toy cupboard for specials that are outside of that broad parameter. Basically, I try to select the right lamp for the job and many of the traditional theatre lamps offer a unique property, or fulfill a particular niche in the production.

SS: What are some of the unique specials you're using?

PN: There are MAC 2000s on pantographs, Lowel Omnis and Altman Q-Lites built into “neo-stands” or “art stands,” with a pair of Encapsulite fluorescent tubes. The DWEs are custom nine-lights in the shape of an X as befits the tour title, Exciter. They were manufactured by Mike Hosp and Upstaging in the US from very poor pencil drawings, much to everyone's amusement. I also have over a thousand 24V fairy lights that descend to just above the band's heads for several songs, in red and white circuits.

SS: How did the art stands develop?

PN: I needed to put an element of proximal lighting around the band, and in contrast to the usual pipe-and-base options, I wanted a custom arrangement that befitted the clean lines of the set, hence the creation of the art stands. They're comprised of two Encapsulite 5600K fluorescent tubes housed in a safely recessed channel, with a Q-Lite 12" from the floor for low backlight and an Omni at 6' for high backlight. These units served as a neat alternative, centralized the cabling, and became a part of the set visually. The art stands provided a range of light sources and are used as worklight near the video that didn't obscure the projection songs.

SS: The pantographs are something you don't see very often in a concert situation. Have you used them in shows in the past? How are they holding up on the road?

PN: I've used the pantographs before in festivals with Björk a few years ago, but in essence I just wanted to create a different angle of focus, and a degree of animation in the non-projection songs. They've toured reasonably well after a few modifications in rehearsals.

SS: Do you rely heavily on floor lights and set lights? Or do you consider them more of a minor part of the rig?

PN: I suspect I have more than my fair share of floor lights.

SS: Can you tell me a little bit about your set lighting?

PN: Besides the art stands, the only other set lighting was three four-light ACL walkway uplights to provide illumination of Dave and the background vocalists in their upstage positions, and 12 Q-Lites in the drum riser facia. The ACL four-lights provided a clean directional source with minor spill through the Plexiglas top panels onto the screen some 12" behind it.

SS: Your color palette appears to be fairly saturated. Is there a specific reason you stayed on that end of the spectrum?

PN: The music defines the palette. I suspect that's part of what I do, or try to do.

SS: Did you feel at all limited with your color palette? Or were the songs such that it would have been limiting to use pastels?

PN: I think only a couple of songs actually “sounded pastel” if that makes any sense. “I Feel Loved” for example is a bright, upbeat pastel song.

SS: Do you stay away from using front-of-house spots?

PN: I prefer the inherent interest of sidelighting spots, plus a bright red floor and a 50'x24' white projection screen played an unseen role in my choice of followspot angles.

SS: Your truss spots are almost completely automated--do you find this works better for you?

PN: The spots are Lycians with Morpheus ColorFaders programmed into the console cues allowing crossfades, blackouts, etc., to become integrated, hence less “random.”

SS: What console are you using?

PN: Wholehog II--believe me, Fraser Elisha is the one using it; I merely add water to the Twinings tea at regular intervals. We had an Avolites Pearl in the early shows for me to stumble around.

SS: Would you consider this is a cue-heavy show?

PN: I rarely manage many cues and it was clear very early on that cueing to every beat or sample would be too much. We concentrated on setting strong, clear scenes and perhaps shifting with the intensity of the song as opposed to a drum/bass/sample approach. This was also in harmony, hopefully, with the set and video perception required by Anton Corbijn.

SS: What was the biggest challenge?

PN: Trying to read my own notes.

SS: What do you like best about the show?

PN: The interaction of the video and the lighting, blurring the lines, preserving the clarity of the concept, and witnessing a great live performance.

Depeche Mode's Exciter tour ends October 30, in Istanbul. Normandale is currently designing Björk's world tour, which will tour opera houses, with a 66-person orchestra and an Eskimo choir.

Contact the author at sstancavage@primediabusiness.com.

DEPECHE MODE EXCITER WORLD TOUR 2001

Lighting Designer
Paul Normandale

Lighting Director
Fraser Elisha

Crew Chief
Mike Hosp

Technicians
Antoinette DeLeo, Tyler Roach, Soline Velasquez

Equipment Supplier
Upstaging

Lighting Equipment

10

Svoboda 9-lights

15

Altman Q-Lites

12

Lowel-Light Omnis

3

Thomas 8-lights

7

custom “X” lights

8

ETC Source Four ellipsoidals

8

MR-16 mini-ellipsoidals

3

Lycian 1200 spotlights

3

Morpheus ColorFaders

6

custom art stands with Encapsulite fluorescent tubes

18

EC Creative custom light roll drops

21

Martin Professional MAC 2000s

23

High End Systems Studio Beam PCs

7

L.E.D. DMX pantographs

2

Reel EFX DF-50 hazers

2

Le Maitre G150 smoke machines

1

60'x40' black backdrop

1

six-station intercom system

1

Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II console

12

11' sections curved 20"x20" box truss

3

8' sections curved 12"x18" box truss

18

8' sections 20"x20" box truss

6

10' sections 12"x12" box truss

8

8' sections 12"x12" box truss

24

1-ton motors

7

1/2-ton 32fpm motors

1

motor control system