The alt-rock band Radiohead recently took a flyer on new technology, purchasing 48 James Thomas Engineering Pixelline LED battens for use on its European festival tour, which promotes the group's new album, Hail to the Thief. LD Andi Watson specified the units; he was reportedly looking for a bright, high-impact fixture that could be used as a special item for festivals, and also incorporated into the tour's overall design. Starting out with a video concept in mind, he eventually turned to LEDs.

The LED fixtures used in the show consist of forty-eight 4' Thomas Pixelline 1044 high-brightness LED battens, installed end-to-end in twenty-four 8' strip vertical towers spaced at 3' intervals across the back of the stage. The battens are controlled by a new, soon-to-be-released Beta version of High End Systems Catalyst Version 3 software, a customized code written by Richard Bleasdale, which allowed Watson to program and control the units live with ease and fluidity.

Radiohead is the first group to use this new version of the software, which acts as an interface between video and lighting media. It takes video pixels from a QuickTime movie and maps them to LED lighting panel cells via an Artistic Licence ArtNet Ethernet to DMX interface. This allows the LEDS to be controlled via DMX from the production's lighting console.

Speaking of the effect, Watson says, “The Thomas Pixellines are wonderful fixtures. The saturated colors produced are so intense and their light output is fantastic. Being able to control so many individual cells within the fixture was also a great factor in my decision to use them on the tour. My only difficulty was finding the best possible control solution. Richard Bleasdale provided me with a version of Catalyst, which enabled me to control the LED fixtures in an organic, beautiful way. Using his software was the only way I could treat the complex LED array effectively as one entity and I have been saved untold hours of button pushing. Combining such great lighting instruments with a unique, easy-to-use piece of software has let me concentrate on what I want to see, not on how to program it.”

Gear for the tour, which was supplied by Bandit Lites, includes seventeen 8 Lites with Wybron Coloram scrollers, seven 1kW Tota Lites (from Lowel-Lite), 34 Martin Mac 2000 Wash units, 24 Martin Mac Performance units, 16 police beacons, 14 Martin Atomic strobes, and two High End Systems F100 foggers, with control provided by a Wholehog II console from Flying Pig Systems. To obtain the right LED units, Bandit's touring manager, Mark Powell, turned to the projects division of AC Lighting; the company provided its specialist LED knowledge to source and supply the Pixellines. For the US leg of the tour, an additional 24 battens have been specified. The LEDs are used for more than 25% of the group's set, for a variety of effects — from searing white-outs to text messages to complex, mesmeric sine wave and oscillating looks. Watson adds, “They are absolutely awesome!” I want to put them into an art installation when the tour's finished!”

Radiohead is now in the US, where it will remain until early October. Then it's back to Europe for the final leg of the tour, which concludes in December.