BCK LSI LiteShow
integrated MIDI-to-light controller
Eight channels of lighting, 300w per channel - all controlled through MIDI Channel 16. Is this he light at the end of the tunnel?
Need a lightshow for your tour? Ian Masterson takes you on a tour of the LiteShow...
Apart from psychological factors such as intimacy between band and audience and the appearance of a 'full house' with relatively few people, playing smaller venues has, of course, real practical advantages in terms of the equipment needed to make an impact.
It is perfectly possible, these days, to mount an audibly and visually impressive performance with quite modest gear. I'll resist the temptation to quote the "size isn't everything" maxim, but it's as true here as it is in any other walk of life. Certainly, I've seen some stunning light shows recently that have involved relatively little investment, having made full use of MIDI as the programming medium.
This, presumably, is what BCK had in mind when they produced the LiteShow, an integrated MIDI-to-mains lighting interface that allows your sequencer to directly control up to eight channels of lighting from one unit.
The LiteShow comes packaged in a compact black box, littered with an assortment of indicator LEDs (which show which channels are currently active, and whether the unit is receiving MIDI data), a MIDI input, a chunky red power switch, and two 8-pin Bulgin lighting connectors. Each lighting channel can handle up to 300 watts of lamps, which should be enough for most small-venue applications providing you don't go overboard on the floods. A 500 watt per channel spec would have been rather more flexible, but would, of course, have exceeded the 13 amp current limit of a standard mains plug/socket.
In keeping with its budget status, the MIDI side of things has been kept quite simple on this particular interface. The unit only responds to Note On messages with velocity (to control lamp brightness), program changes (for selecting pre-set scenes - more on this later) and active sensing (which acts as a failsafe should the MIDI input cable be accidentally disconnected during a performance).
The LiteShow, for reasons best known to the manufacturers, will only respond to MIDI Channel 16, and over the note ranges 60-67 (middle C to the G above). Though not a serious limitation, it would have been nice to have had the option of altering these values. Anyway...
Telling your sequencer to send a Note On value of 60 with a velocity of 64 will bring on the lamp connected to channel 1 at half brightness. Interestingly, the unit doesn't recognise MIDI Note Off messages; turning lamps off is accomplished by sending another Note On with zero velocity. This, apparently, is to ensure fades programmed on a sequencer are smooth. Normally, a computer will send an associated Note Off message for every Note On, but during continuous velocity changes (when lights are faded up or down) this can cause them to flicker. By leaving the channel switched on until zero velocity is recognised, the LiteShow cleverly avoids this. Unusual, but effective.
BCK have also included 80 preset lighting 'scenes' with the LiteShow; 64 of these are static displays, but the other 16 offer special animated effects such as rapid chasing, fades and undulating. They're selected by sending an appropriate program change command from your sequencer. This is very handy; it saves you the bother of programming similar effects yourself and means you can drop then into your program at any time.
The manual is reasonably thorough and takes you through the various stages involved in programming your own light show. It's ideal for the novice, but does have a tendency to state the obvious: "switch off immediately if any smoke or unusual sounds are emitted from the unit, lighting rig or connectors." Quite.
To help the learning process further, a demo disk is supplied with two MIDI files, created in conjunction with Heavenly Music. These can be read into format '0' compatible machines, such as the Yamaha MDF2 or Roland Sound Brush, or into a computer via format '1' - the former type seems more applicable since the LiteShow has been optimised to run beside GM compatible sound modules (an appendix in the manual is dedicated to operating the unit with Roland's Sound Canvas models).
Which actually brings me neatly to my conclusion. BCK are right to market the LiteShowas a small venue lighting controller, suitable for those employing MIDI file players - this reflects the limited current handling and restricted MIDI implementation of the device. But for those dipping a tentative toe in the water this simplicity will no doubt be seen as a real advantage. The LiteShow is a plug-in-and-go device with no complex features and a straightforward operating system - but with the capacity, nevertheless, to bring life to an otherwise static stage show. You may need a little extra gear for that Wembley Stadium gig. But down at the Rat & Screwdriver on a Tuesday night, it should prove ideal.
|Ease of use||Nothing to get bogged down in|
|Originality||One of several such units on the market|
|Value for money||Pretty respectable|
|Star Quality||An ideal entry-level unit|
|Price||£199.99 Inc. VAT|
|More from||BCK Products, (Contact Details)|
Review by Ian Masterson
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