Chris Kuroda Sheds Some Light
JW: When the band writes new material, do they sit down with you and say, “this is a new song, for this section right here I want some nice blue-violet lights…”?
CK: That’s happened from time to time. I’ve gotten advice. They specifically told me at one time, a bunch of years ago, how to light “Punch You In The Eye”. They told me what colors go where…here…there… I still, to this day, kind of stick with that color scheme. There are a few other things. Any new music that has changes I will have to usually go to band practice and just kind of listen a few times and learn the changes.
JW: One of the most fascinating things that I’ve learned about your lighting is that you’re actually about a half-second ahead of the music.
CK: Yeah that’s right.
JW: I know all of the changes by heart and I thought I had a grasp on what you do. But then when I learned that you were ahead of the beat, I couldn’t believe it. I can’t comprehend how you do that. How do you keep the rhythm, actually being ahead of the beat?
CK: It’s really a matter of getting used to it, more than anything else. You get used to hitting that button a half-second early. So, I hit the button and I’m not really thinking about when I’m hitting the button. I’m thinking about when the light is gonna come on. I’ve just sort of trained myself to just be a little ahead. I mean, when I hit that button ahead of the music and the music doesn’t do what I’m hoping will happen, that button’s been hit already. The lights are gonna go on, you know what I mean? There’s no time to react and go “oops”.
JW: Right. That’s another thing that occurred to me. A lot of times you’re guessing, like in that “Antelope” last night. (11-27-98). It was hard to tell when they were gonna go to the Marco Esquandolas section. Is that cued from Trey or is that just you guessing?
CK: I’d say there’s some guessing involved, but there is a look. Trey will look at Fish and give him a certain look, which says to me, “I hope so”. (laughs) You know what I mean? Here’s an interesting thing: Trey will give Fish the look and Fish won’t see Trey give him the look and Trey will know that Fish didn’t see him. So, Trey will go around again, but I don’t see Fish not see Trey so I go to “Blue” on that and they’re still going and I go, “Oh, crap!” That’s happened now and again.
JW: Did you get lost in that chaotic “Weekapaug” last night. Was the band lost?
CK: I wouldn’t say anybody was lost, no. Years ago, I used to get lost, but now I’ve learned to just sort of go with the flow more than anything else.
JW: Back to the half-second delay. I’m really puzzled by this. On a technical level, is that because the light is travelling faster than the sound in the big arenas?
CK: No, it’s because it takes that much time between the time you hit the button for the data to travel from my light console, to the dimmer rack, to whatever system it’s talking to, for that instrument to react and for the bulb to come on. If I hit it right on the beat, the lights are gonna be late every time because it takes time for the signal to go through.
JW: Really. So even with all of the technology, there’s no way for it to be instantaneous?
JW: Do you have a preference for indoor or outdoor venues?
CK: I prefer indoor venues specifically.
JW: Yeah, I would assume so. I know you have that new effect where you light the crowd behind the stage in a different color than the band.
CK: Yeah, we started doing that last tour because we’re playing in 360 and I wanted to try to bring the people behind the stage feeling like they’re more of a part of what’s going on. Most of my lighting design hasn’t gone back there really. I mean, ultimately I would like to design 360 degree “looks”, but that’s difficult with all the P.A. and stuff that we have hanging up there. So, I just wanted to get the crowd more involved and I also thought it looked wicked.
JW: I’ve talked to a lot of fans and I don’t think that people, even those that are knowledgeable about Phish, are really sure how you actually call the light show. Can you explain the actual communication process between you and your assistants?
CK: Well, I’m talking to Roger (Pujol) on one side and “Rocko” (Radkovich) on the other side and Roger’s running the Altstar system and Rocko is running all the high-end equipment. There are studio colors and studio spots. Those are the two kinds of lights. I’m basically calling numbers to them, numbers or names of different looks and they’re setting up based on a “stand-by and go” type of verbal system. So, I’ll set them up in a look and tell them to stand by and when I say “go”, they both hit their buttons. I say, for example, “Rocko, set up 201, Roger set up 700. Stand by.” They set up… they’re waiting… and right when I think I want to execute those cues, I say “go” and they go and they push their buttons.
JW: So, they’re actually having to execute the half-second delay too.
CK: Oh yeah. Well, they push the button when I say “go”. They’re not thinking half-second. I’m thinking half-second. They’re just thinking “go”.
JW: So every section of every song is categorized by number?
CK: Oh, it doesn’t work like that at all. We have just hundreds of cues in this system and hundreds of cues in that system, and I just ask for them.
JW: You memorized them all?
CK: Yeah, it’s always different. Nothing’s set. Just whenever I want that one, I’ll ask for it….
JW: But, you’ve had to actually memorize every number and you know in your head what it’s gonna look like?
CK: Well, I designed them all and I numbered them all myself so…
JW: That’s pretty incredible.
CK: I just know it through that more than anything else.
JW: In certain songs, like say “2001”, is there a certain file that is assigned to that specifically?
CK: Well there are certain songs, the “You Enjoy Myself” vocal jam, the “2001”, that would just be impossible to call. So, I leave my console and go over and run their consoles for certain things.
JW: That was my next question. I noticed that in Albany (11-25-98), during “2001”, I looked over and you were all of a sudden at one of the other consoles.
CK: Yeah, sometimes I feel the need to do that.
JW: “You Enjoy Myself”, I’m glad you brought that up. It seems that the band is actually following you at times during the vocal jam.
CK: Sometimes yes, sometimes no. If they’re in the mood to follow me, they’ll follow me and if they’re not in the mood to follow me, I’ll figure it out pretty quick and just try to follow them more. But, every time a vocal jam starts, I’m planning to follow them. I’m never planning to take charge in any way. That just sort of usually happens based on the vibe of what’s going on more than anything else.