It takes two to tango
Illuminate yourself with our guide to brighter bulbs
Overlooking the light show for your club is a bit like lashing out on an expensive hi-fi and having no money left for speakers. The other problem is keeping it fresh without having to constantly update. Ian Masterson lights up a college bash with the versatile Pulsar range...
Pulsar lighting of Cambridge was set up 25 years ago by two of the city's graduates, Paul Mardon and Ken Sewell. Inviting them to transform a student bop into something out of Close Encounters was almost like calling in a favour. Add to that media coverage courtesy of The Mix, and the fact that Pulsar are literally round the comer from the venue, and a deal was hatched.
In five years, The Junction in Cambridge has grown from a modest, workaday venue for local bands and discos into a breeding ground for clubs and live recordings. Among the feathers in its cap are live recordings by Maria McKee, Ozric Tentacles and the Stereo MCs, and two series of Anglia TV's Up The Junction. Capacity has grown to over 800, with 100,000 punters passing through its doors each year. It was the obvious candidate for Tango, a major new venture by Cambridge University Student Union, encompassing elements of funk, house and acid jazz.
Arriving at midday, Pulsar's Technical Manager Andy Graves greeted us from the top of a particularly long ladder, where he was busy hoisting a Silverado scan onto one of the ceiling lighting bars. Andy proceeded to fill us in on the plan for the evening: To use the bulk of The Junction's in-house kit (basically a clutch of bog-standard PAR64 parcans) to provide general illumination over the stage area, with an array of Pulsar-supplied scans and strobes providing the necessary visual wizardry.
For rigging purposes, Andy had drawn up, on his rather nifty CAD machine, a lighting schematic based on a plan of the lighting bars. In common with most commercial performance and club venues, The Junction has an array of scaffold-style trusses bolted to its ceiling, which are prewired with toughened rubber sheath (TRS) cable and standard 15A round pin sockets.
For most applications, the power to these sockets is drawn from a small bank of patchable dimmer packs located in a nearby cupboard - these provide 48 channels of basic dimming, controlled by a basic lighting board. While such an arrangement is fine for the banks of parcans Andy intended to use above the stage area to provide general illumination for the bands, dimming packs don't take too kindly to being used as a direct power source for large scans.
This is because intelligent lighting units require a fixed, stable 240V AC power supply to run their inductive loads (motors and fans) and electronic circuits as well as the actual lamps. So, to provide the necessary juice, the resident technical crew had to repatch the tails feeding certain lighting bar sockets, into a more permanent, stable source.
The actual rig Andy and his team had planned for Tango encompassed some of the finest pieces of lighting technology available from Pulsar. The scan-type units involved are actually jointly manufactured by Pulsar and Clay Paky of Italy - Pulsar design and produce the electronic circuits in Cambridge before shipping them out to be assembled into the actual luminaires.
The lighting design for Tango included eight Clay Paky Silverados, two Golden Scan III's, two Tiger Scans, two SuperScan Zooms, and four Pulsar Monster Strobes, all of which were digitally controlled by a single Masterpiece 108 console. Digital control of lighting is now universally accepted as being infinitely more versatile than the basic analogue 0-10 volt standard of old, if only because all the information from a Masterpiece (that's 108 discreet channels of control) can be sent down a single XLR cable to all the lights in a rig. If only MIDI were that user-friendly...
It took several hours of hard graft to get all the scans up and running (so to speak) - not because of any particular technical difficulties, but because of the sheer weights involved! In particular, the GoldenScan IIIs, Tiger Scans and SuperScan Zooms are built for serious touring use, and this translates into seriously heavy construction.
Two people were required to lift any one of these units at any time; obviously, this means that any bar which the scans are flown from needs to be extremely robust. It turned out that Andy had decided to mount the SuperScans on tripods, rather than flying them over the stage, which greatly eased the workload - but, since every other unit had to be carefully hoisted up to the roof by means of a strong rope, the rigging took up much of the afternoon.
By mounting the major scans above the stage, Andy was able to provide effects not only above the crowd, but on the bands and their backdrop as well. Since the scan units are essentially projectors, the range of images and coloured patterns that can be called up on any available surface - be it wall, floor or ceiling - makes this form of intelligent lighting the most versatile around.
The smaller Silverado scans located above the dance floor provided additional 'fill-in' over the large crowd, with four Monster Strobes giving extra flexibility. All of these were linked via a single control cable to the Masterpiece 108 for control; Andy spent the remaining time before the doors opened to the crowd programming a whole range of sequences and chases into the Masterpiece's memory for recall during throughout the evening.
As it turned out, all the preparation and planning that had gone into Tango paid off. From the moment the doors opened at 10.30pm until they shut at 3am the following morning, everyone who came along appeared to be having a fantastic time. The vast majority of them, at one point or another, could be seen pointing in fascination at the various lighting effects Andy was dazzling them with; yet another crowd learnt that the right lighting in a club environment makes for the right atmosphere, no matter how large or small the venue.
By the time we left (having drunk an unfeasibly large amount of lager and dancing ourselves dizzy), CUSU and Pulsar were able to give each other a hearty slap on the back for creating a storming evening for all. Perhaps those dissertations weren't quite so important after all.
Feature by Ian Masterson
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