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Playing with the spectacular: interactive lighting at live events

 

Lighting seems to take a secondary role in our lives; in fact, we often spend much of our time trying to make it blend in with our surroundings. Perhaps one of the only times we want our lighting to be as in-your-face as possible is when we’re out enjoying ourselves at a concert, nightclub or sports event

Lighting adds as much to the experience as the artist we have paid money to see.Nowadays, when we perhaps spend much more of our money on seeing our favorite musicians live than we do on expanding our CD collection, the role of lighting in these events has never been more under the spotlight.

 

With the popularity of live shows, lighting designers for these events are taking a new approach to enhancing the experience. Alongside traditionally lighting the performers on stage, the lights are now being brought directly to the audience.

 

For many casual gig-goers, the trend of interactive lighting first came to attention during Coldplay’s 2011-12 live tour. Before every show all attendees were given a Xyloband - a wristband embedded with LED lights. During the show these wristbands would light up in tandem with the on-stage light show, thus bringing the audience more fully into the experience.

 

It’s not just wristbands that are taking over live events, either. A particular highlight was when, at Coachella 2011, Arcade Fire launched hundreds of illuminated beach balls upon festival-goers during a key part of their set.

 

The highest-profile example to date, though, was during The Big Game halftime show, when a stadium armed with light panel necklaces broadcast their own light show to the world.

 

LED smart textiles, such as wristbands or beach balls, can be controlled using Wi-Fi or radio transmitters, and can be mapped using GPS. As a collective whole they can produce images and synchronized color schemes, without being dependent on the audience member standing in the ‘right’ location throughout the show.

 

However, as lighting designer Rob Sinclair explains, there’s a simple knack to using these items to elevate a live event experience:

 

“The key, where Coldplay and Arcade Fire both succeeded, is to create something that the audience can instinctively understand and enjoy. Any sort of instructions or complexity would interfere with the experience, and it needs to be obviously inclusive for the whole crowd.“

"I was completely blown away by the use of the audience as a giant screen”

 

Imagine what it could look like if these items eventually became a standard part of the show? What might a music festival look like if every attendee’s entry wristband contained LED, and every act’s lighting team were given access to control the wristbands as part of their own sets, depending on which stage they were closest to?

 

Or what if the wristband reacted to the wearer’s enjoyment of the show and could be read by the band onstage? There may be infinite possibilities for making live shows truly interactive by using new lighting technology.

 

It would appear that the technology only needs to catch up with imagination. As Sinclair simply puts it:

 

“It’s all very exciting and I’ve found myself thinking and talking about it a lot… We all loved the Olympics, and personally I was completely blown away by the use of the audience as a giant screen. It was unexpected and beautiful.”

 

Have you been to a concert or live event where you’ve been able to interact with the lighting? How was your experience? If you could interact with light in any way at a live event, what would you most want to be able to do?