“For me, light is music,” says Swedish lighting designer Emma Westerberg, who recently finished a three-week North American preview tour with an alternative-rock band from Ireland that played to sold-out, big-city club crowds. Even with limited space in the touring truck, Westerberg kept her lighting-design standards high. She stowed her compact ETC Congo jr lighting control console with her on the tour bus, or when she flew, checked it through in her luggage.
Westerberg demonstrates how a good, basic rig combined with a powerful compact console can create a sophisticated lighting show. To provide the ideal lighting accompaniment to a varying nightly songlist, Westerberg deployed 12 Studio Beams (six on the flybar, six on the floor as sidelights), a sharktooth cyc, four six-cell groundrows, six four-light Moles, three Diversitronic strobes, three half-sphere rotating mirror balls (placed on the floor), and six ETC Source Four® ellipsoidal spotlights with irises—all controlled by the Congo jr console.
Designing for a performer who likes to change things up each night meant that lighting would differ from show to show. New songs would be introduced without warning. Song order would be moved around. Westerberg had to be ready to work on the fly, using the Congo jr board’s generous hands-on faders to react quickly and improvise whenever an unplanned song arose.
“Congo jr gives me direct access to my sequences. And with no set song list in a touring-show context, I really need to be fast,” notes Westerberg. “The Congo jr makes it easy for me to work as a lighting designer. I can design spontaneously, responding to the mood of the music and the intent of the lyrics. This desk lets me focus on my art rather than on console commands. I can concentrate on what’s going on onstage instead of having to focus on complicated actions on the board.”
No stranger to moving lights, Westerberg has been designing for 12 years, serving as assistant lighting designer at the Stockholm Royal Opera and the National Opera Oslo as well as touring with ballet companies and other concerts. This recent tour bore her signature lighting-design style, what she explains derives from the European or Germanic school of lighting as opposed to what some call an Anglo Saxon or American one: “I paint with big brushes—groups of lights dedicated to certain parts of the stage—rather than choosing to scatter lights individually in a more pointillistic, sieve-like effect.” Westerberg measures out large chunks of space for illumination. “If you take the color away, it would be very naturalistic; broad swaths of light, like what you might find in a dramatic sunlight effect.”
“I don’t like gobos,” the designer states. She prefers playing with deep, contrasting colors—as minimal as two per song—to create optical illusions of depth and dimensionality. For one of the tour’s moodiest alt-rock numbers she set saturated red light against a bold blue background. The effect was to sculpt the musicians out of space as one continuous form, as though light not only had musicality but mass.
The Congo jr’s ability to apply times to manual changes allowed Westerberg to paint the band and the set as the music demanded. She could assign a time to a palette and change the colors in some but not all of the lights. Climactic moments in the music could be met with equal drama in the lighting, and then changed subtly as the music again changed.
“The Congo jr is so much easier than any of the other boards I‘ve worked with. I like the way this console is built up,” Westerberg continues. “It’s so logical. I can set the times for every parameter and not even think about it.”
Westerberg owns her own personal Congo jr, which she’s taking on the road again as the show goes out for an extended six-week tour, starting mid-February. She’ll be adding more moving lights to the rig and increasing the conventional count as well. With the full functionality of a bigger Congo and operating the same powerful software, as well as an optional add-on Master Playback Wing for more than 40 faders and two LCDs for full playback capability and complete control of all masters and Direct Selects, Congo jr exceeds her needs.
“The Congo jr can handle any rig,” says Westerberg. “I’ll take it with me wherever I go.”