A hip indie band from Brooklyn set out to promote its latest album, Nine Types Of Light. So it only stands to reason that light was the major design element for TV On The Radio’s recent tour, taking in small to mid-sized venues from Austin City Limits to the Hollywood Bowl.
"They approached me in mid-July, right before I went out with My Morning Jacket," says lighting designer Marc Janowitz, who originally had met the band members from TV On The Radio at the Big Day Out festival in Australia in 2009, when they appeared on the same bill with My Morning Jacket, and Janowitz volunteered to help with lighting. Since the LD and the band live in Brooklyn, it was a perfect match. "We’ve become friends, and I did some summer dates with them back in ‘09," he says.
Taking the name of the new album to heart, Janowitz created layers with nine types of light: front, back, side, foot, backdrop, stars, strobes, followspot, and backline texture. "I had a very short time before this tour," he recalls. "Just three days from an email to the first meeting with basic concepts, I asked what they wanted in terms of light and imagery, and they brought an image from the Hubble telescope that served as the backdrop for the concert."
The star-field image became a 24'x36' printed backdrop made by Sew What?. The band also brought in Japanese cartoon images depicting urban settings with long, stretched shadows from both sun and moonlight. These images inspired Janowitz to design side-light systems using low, single sources to echo the images. His solution comprised eight Philips Vari-Lite VL3000s hung in pairs on four Global Truss crank towers. These were placed upstage and mid-stage on either side of the band, yet as far off stage as possible. An additional five VL3000s on the floor added to the low look and could be spun around to add texture to the backdrop.
"We were limited on trailer space," says the LD, "so we couldn’t use truss. As a result, there was primarily ground support." The rig also included 12 GLP Impression 90 LED fixtures for overhead stars hung on adjustable stirrups, eight Impression 90s for low stars, two Reel EFX DF-50 hazers, 10 Impression 120 Zooms, and 10 Philips Color Kinetics ColorBlast TRX units for footlights. "It all fit in one 15' trailer," adds Janowitz, who collaborated with associate designer Benjamin Price and lighting director Benjamin Silverstein, who also toured as lighting operator and implemented the design on a daily basis with PM/FOH engineer Matthew Littlejohn. Silverstein ran the show on a single High End Systems Road Hog Full Boar with fader wing. VER provided the rig with additional support from BML.
The only fixtures actually hung were the Impression 90s for the overhead stars, along with in-house conventionals at each venue. Janowitz forwarded a plot calling for frontlight and backlight to be pre-hung with Lee Filters 119 (Dark Blue). Then the Impression 90s were added overhead on adjustable stirrups. "They were never exactly at the same height," says Janowitz. "The idea was to never have the exact same show twice but to make it as organic as the cosmos."
The color palette was based on a single- or dual-color scheme for each song, but Janowitz modulated the saturation and intensity. "Red might have gone from orange to scarlet," he points out, "but it stayed within the same hue, just as blue might have done a crescendo to steel or even white. All the modulation was done live with tactile control to follow the swells of the music and not be locked in."
With his use of backlight and Vari-Lite fixtures on the floor, Janowitz created what he refers to as a universe of "emanating light. It’s not just light on the band but around them and emanating though them and out toward the audience," he explains. "This is how music is expressed visually for me, with light coming from all the places the music comes from. The band should be enveloped in layers of light."