5. Light Show

If you have ever witnessed a nice concert with a great light show, you know the extra dimension lights can add to a performance and experience. Maybe you also experienced the opposite and realised how destructive a bad light show can be.
For a band of our size, there are five ways to play live with a light show:

  1. play with steady lights
  2. play with random lights
  3. bring a lightning engineer
  4. trust the lightning engineer at the venue
  5. play with a midi-triggered lightshow

We decided for option e) and even extended this by bringing our own light hardware to the venue, to be as independent and constant as possible.

Please keep in mind, nobody in the band is a professional lightning engineer and everything we show is self-taught and may be called low budget or negligent, but the results are highly enriching for our live performance and perception.

With our own limited hardware we’re able to play small clubs and venues. If venues are getting bigger, we’re able to embed selected parts of the house light easily and fast, which will be shown later.

5.1 Light Concept

We perform to a silhouette-based light concept. This means we dispense all front light and rely on back lights only. We like the generated atmosphere from the audience perspective and think it fits our music aesthetically well. Because of the missing front light you have to be able to perform without seeing your instrument or fretboard.

Each song is programmed around one main color. For additional effects we bring in complementary colors or evolve a main color to another color to fit the intention and progression of a song. With blind and strobe effects we create accenting effects.

5.2 Hardware

5.2.1 Overview

Our MIDI-triggered light show is programmed and controlled via Enttec DMXIS hard- and software. As mentioned in part 1, the DMXIS interface, which is converting MIDI to DMX commands, is permanently mounted to a rack tray inside our main rack and connected to our MacBook Pro, running Logic Pro X, via USB hub. Within our Logic session, the DMXIS software is hosted as an VST plugin.

We use five LED spots (Stairville Quad Par Profile 5x8W RGBW 45°) in 6 channel mode. With a 45 degree beam angle those spots create a wide and nice beam and surprisingly  rich colours, even in the pastel range.

We use two Stairville LF-12 LED Flash 12 DMX as strobes and blinders in 3 channel mode. Those devices are really flexible and bright.

Except for two LED spots, we’ve mounted all lights on cast base mic stands for a beam angle at body height.

We are aware of the unauthorized misappropriation of the base mic stands, but managed to perform with this setup without admonition ‘til today.

5.2.2 Positions

For creating the mentioned silhouette effect, we’re placing the LED spots behind each band member. Two spots are placed behind our drummer on the floor. The strobes are placed besides the drum kit. The following picture gives you an impression of the overall look:

5.2.3 Cabling

We connect all lights serial by using the DMX and mains in- and outputs of each device. To reduce the effort involved in setting everything up on stage in turbulent changeover situations, we’ve connected DMX cables and mains extensions with fluorescent marking tape and call them “chains”. For example 3m chains are orange, 5m chains are purple, 10m chains are yellow and so on. This way orientation and setup gets easy. Grab a chain, start at the interface, connect two lights and go on like that. We also pre mount the lights on the stands. This way, our light setup on stage is ready in approximately less then five additional minutes during changeover.

We are aware of the risks with running a stage setup like this (connection problems with one light will kill all lights following) and think about inserting an DMX splitter for a parallel setup in the future. Another advantage would be the galvanic isolation of sound and light mains circuits in order to avoid interferences, if analog house lights or dimmers are involved.

The following schematic represents the positions of the spots and strobes, as well as their chain connections, cable length,  and DMX start addresses.

5.3 Light Programming

5.3.1 DMXIS

For each song of our live set one bank is created in DMXIS software. Each bank contains a multitude of scenes. Each scene is designed with its own light program for a specific part of a song.

With a dedicated light check, we’re able to check the proper cabling of our setup, with automatically triggering one light after another. If everything is communicating and visible circling around, we’re ready to go.

Before and after each song, there is the same colored pause light (everything blue). 

This gives us the freedom to mix up the setlist or to start and stop the Logic session at any time, because no interruptions get visible between songs.

We put the DMX start addresses of our own light hardware on the very end of the DMX universe, because usually venues start their house lights on channel 1. This way, we’re able to copy the light commands for our hardware easily to the house lights without overlap, if necessary and possible. A dedicated explanation of embedding house lights will follow later.

5.3.2 MIDI

We run two dedicated MIDI tracks for our own light show. MIDI track 1 is triggering the song bank (sending on MIDI channel 15). MIDI track 2 is triggering the scenes within the banks (sending on MIDI channel 16). The MIDI channel assignment is predefined by DMXIS.

The first bank in DMXIS can be triggered with the lowest MIDI note (C-2). The first scene in this bank is triggered with C-2, too (remember both tracks are sending on different channels). 

In the graphic above you can see the scene progression within one bank/song through the ascending MIDI notes. Now you just have to make sure that your scenes fit your aesthetic vision and are triggered in the right moment of the song. 

We also enabled a Logic feature called “MIDI chase” which basically keeps the light show in the right bank and scene depending on where we place the playhead in Logic. That means when we put the playhead in the middle of the song, the Lights will actually go to the right scene without directly being triggered by the playhead running over a certain MIDI note.

In the beginning of the light programming process we had problems with programming/implementing short strobe shots, e.g. on the first beat of a measure. The solution was to program a very slow “strobe” with a frequency of 25 shots per minute. By putting the corresponding MIDI note to the “shot scene” 3/16 before the first beat of a measure, the shot is in time. For an example please check the video at the end of this article at 0:15. Everything seen there is just our basic setup.

5.3.3 Integration of house lights

In certain situations it becomes necessary to integrate the existing house lights of a venue. The bigger a venue gets, the more lights need to be integrated as compensation for our limited hardware. As there is no “copy & paste” feature within DMXIS, you’re forced to work with Python scripts to mirror lights. Those scripts can be load as macros within DMXIS. With mirroring, we mean telling a certain house light to do the exact same thing then what for example our LED Spot “Git L” is doing. There are a lot of scripts available at the DMXIS forum, but not what we needed for mirroring our scenes to the house light. We programmed a solution, to even send multiple DMX channels to multiple destinations. The screenshot is giving you a hint.

As you can see in the example, channels 449 to 451 get copied and sent to starting channel 1 and 10. This means channel 1, 2, 3 and 10, 11, 12 are now doing the exact same thing as channel 449, 450 and 451.

To get everything even more safe and flexible, we’ve prepared 30 scripts for different DMX regions of our show that need to be mirrored.

 For each LED spots there are scripts for:

  • RGB
  • W
  • STROBE
  • DIM

Both strobes got scripts for:

  • BRIGHT
  • FRQ

This way we are able to prepare the extension of our light show in advance, if the venue provides us with a professional light rider some days before the show.  

We connect the house lights with the last spot of our own setup and are ready to go.

During the first lockdown in Germany back in 2020, we got the chance to evaluate our light show and set up in a great local venue. On this occasion we’ve started to implement moving heads, too.

To give you an impression what everything looks and sound like when coming together, please enjoy this video of a live session from last year: