PRG equips Phish designers with Robe lighting

Phish hits the road in North America with Robe lighting fixtures, courtesy of PRG. Photo: Andrew ‘Gif’ Giffin.

Phish’s longtime Lighting Designer, Chris Kuroda and Associate Designer, Andrew ‘Gif’ Giffin joined forces to create a dynamic and eye-catching visual design for the band’s latest North American live campaign with the help of 72 Robe Tetra2 moving LED bars and 60 Robe Spiiders.

Kuroda and Gif have been working together on Phish live projects since 2009 and enjoy a great synergy and all the benefits of working as a creative duo. “Sometimes we bicker about choices like the proverbial old married couple,” Kuroda remarked.

This latest Phish tour design process started in the summer of 2021 when the band came back for their first performances since February 2020. With no LED screens or IMAG video on the tour, the visual language is defined by lighting and movement as the band wants the audience to focus primarily on the music.

The Phish signature automated truss aesthetic that has featured in recent years remained, with 30 sticks of 5ft, 8ft and 10ft truss each flown on two Kinesys Apex motors with TAIT Navigator control. This system is reimagined with new elements including the Tetra2s which produce a completely distinctive look and vibe from anything that has gone before.

When Kuroda and Gif started thinking about the design and getting the Tetra2’s onboard, they wanted to go beyond producing impressive static shapes and architectural looks with the trusses, and to tweak the geometry further by shifting and bending these ‘lines of delineation’.

“We like to use innovative products and thought the Tetra2 was the perfect fixture for this,” stated Kuroda, adding that the cues and looks required to create this shape-shifting architecture were all developed “very organically” during the pre-programming and production rehearsal periods.

A single Tetra2 fixture was added to the 5ft sections, two to the 8ft sections and three to the 10ft pieces. As well as highlighting the form of the black trusses, the Tetra2s’ versatility is used for multiple effects – from sheets and curtains of light to flyaway looks to pixel effects – as well as reflecting the changing trussing patterns which at times flip vertically and fly up to 50ft in the air and down as low as 6ft off the stage.

“The original plan was just to pick out the trussing architecture but when we discovered just how much the Tetra2 can do… it quickly evolved into the ‘feature fixture’ of the show,” noted Gif. Individual pixel control, zoom and the fact that each pixel has its own lens opens “whole new universes” of possibilities for creating funky, dramatic, and fluid looks and chases.

They also wanted the actual fixture to disappear in some of the geometric arrangements isolating just the active pixels, which is achievable with the Terta2 as opposed to other LED batten products on the market. “The homemade Tetra2 effects we’ve created are super cool,” said Kuroda, explaining that Tetra2s came into his life via Craig Burross, Robe North America’s sales director in early 2020, shortly after Robe had launched the product.

The 60 Spiiders – 44 in the air and 16 on the deck – on the rig for the 2021 summer tour and New Year’s Eve shows were already in the Phish show file. Kuroda and Gif both appreciate the seamless colour matching between other Robe fixtures, which share the same colour engine. “Colour is a huge thing,” said Kuroda.

With three hours of music per show, the challenge was to “evolve visually” in the same fashion that the band evolves musically over the course of the set. Not being tied to an album cycle and with the band touring for several months of the year, including one-offs like their annual New Year’s run and destination events in Mexico, it is fundamentally important to keep the lighting fresh. New programming is also added each day of the ongoing tour, says Gif, which is important as many fans will attend multiple shows. “Especially with Tetra2s on the rig we have the flexibility to change or add new effects in the afternoon and use them that night,” he reported.

Programming wizardry plus a few smart hacks have seen the creation of some completely unique Tetra2 content. They have discovered interesting ways of layering effects and making the Tetra2s behave extraordinarily whilst working extremely hard to produce fluid and organic looking rather than digital and electronically created effects. “‘Make it look organic’ has been our mantra ever since we started working with LED products,” said Gif.

Both Kuroda and Gif operate on the tour using networked grandMA3 consoles. Kuroda primarily deals with the lighting while Gif focuses on the automation, most of which is programmed and triggered via the console so it synchronises perfectly with the lighting, rolling lighting and motion into one cohesive control entity. “The aesthetic goal is for lighting to look smooth, soft and pretty,” added Kuroda.

An additional 30 Tetra2s were supplied by Gateway Studios and Production Services to illuminate and create effects onto a large water curtain at Phish’s New Year’s Eve show, and the current touring package also includes 12 Tetra2s on the deck in addition to all those on the trusses. The tour lighting vendor is PRG, with the Tetra2s supplied by Gateway who purchased them especially for the tour.