Unlike most jobs I have had in my life, I enjoy this one. I use present tense for a very odd reason: I still do it whenever I can. You see, the owner of the lighting company, Mark Jones, has been a friend and band mate of mine for years and has the qualities I look for in Humans: intelligent, cynical, anti-authoritarian, artistic, skilled and good at heart.
Radiant Atmospheres, Mark's company, began with a group of us folks from the Cloud Factory Collective setting up lights for our raves. Over time we acquired the skills to turn the ugliest, dingiest cement box of a room into a swirling landscape of polychromatic, multi-textured displays of light at its best. We'd take these truly alien environments and then sync their movements to the music in a way that would then make them seen either so much a part of the scene that they become invisible. Or use quick changes in the entirety of the dynamic to cause sudden jarring switches of mood and feel. Playing music silently with light--truly beautiful.
If you have ever been to a really good rave and danced for hours because the "vibe" was just "perfect" I will lay you odds on two things: 1) the lighting played a huge part in it, and 2) you didn't really notice it much. That?s okay, we don?t mind.
The lighting folks, no matter what industry they work in, are really only ever noticed if they fuck up--otherwise everything is going "right". It takes a lot more skill and hard work than you might think.
I have climbed dangerously narrow rafters holding heavy lights, or mirrorballs 20" and higher up in order to hang them in just the right place. I have held power-strips in such a way that I could on/off lights in sync with music for so long that my thumbs froze up cramping and hurt for days. I've risked death for it, but hell we risk death pretty often over simply needing to get to the other side of the road. I figure doing it over a labor of love is as justified as it gets. Lighting is temporary art installation, not a paycheck.
Now, allow me a moment of pride: I think I am pretty good at lighting design. There are a couple of reasons for my pride in this regard: I am a musician and have been most of my life, so translating sound into motions comes very easy to me. Secondly, having written poetry for years I can see how the metaphors for color, intensity, rotation, speed, shape and movement translates into mood within context. It?s sandcastle building, drawing on a desk, chalk on the sidewalk: a beauty that is only for this one short span of time- very Zen.
I think the most hectic environment we ever set up lights in was at Burning Man, on the Blackrock playa. Basically we set up a three story scaffolding structure braced with six legs that extended out from it. On this we set up a variety of high powered spotlight pointed upward and away from the structure--this created a crown of light during ebbs in the dust storms that one could see for miles, and we had been given the "crown chakra" position on the man. On the ground we projected textures (honey combs, vines, leaves etc.).
Up about four stories was a bar that held the mirrorball, at it we projected more of the spotlights which created HUGE moving reflections out over 100 yards from the structure that made one dizzy if watched. The cracked mud plain of the playa was the perfect canvas. It was lovely... however...
Ever try to do construction and carpentry in whiteout level dust storms? Ever feel sand whip into your face so hard it hurt while you were trying to move heavy equipment up a scaffolding structure? Ever find yourself atop the largest metal structure for miles moving at dangerous speeds bagging tens of thousands of dollars worth of lights while a violent lightning storm is almost on top of you? It?s almost as difficult as trying to secure a mirror ball up four stories balanced on rain slicked metal scaffold pipe while negotiating against the 70 mph gusts. Nearly as disconcerting as looking down to the base of that structure, on which are some of your best friends, to see that the power distributor is in a puddle of water, ready to blow. I put the monkey-me into overdrive on that trip.
Now of course none of this was typical of the job; however, what did end up being typical about doing lights at Burning Man was that I ended up participating very little in any other endeavour aside from the one I came there to do. Its odd: like my being so prefers creation that if there is the opportunity to work doing it I would rather that than simply enjoy the party. It ends up feeling like it weren't my place to join in, like I am there to aid in making sure that those who've come for the party enjoy themselves... but its not out of some martyr complex, I just love art and people that much.
By the way, the Burning Man co-ordinators liked what we did so much that they are funding us next year.