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Published: 2009/09/30
by Jefferson Waful

Looking Into The Light With Chris Kuroda

Photo by Jeff Kravitz (

JW: Is that something you learned as you matured as an artist? That seems to be a common theme among musicians. You could use Phish as an example. As they’ve gotten older, their songwriting has gone from complex to a lot of three-chord rock songs. The ‘less is more’ philosophy.

CK: I would say that’s fair to say, absolutely.

JW: Are there any particular lighting designers that have influenced you in the last few years, as that new philosophy has blossomed?

CK: Well, when Trey opened for The Stones, they were playing gigantic stadiums, but it wasn’t just mountains of fixtures. It was really spread out and when they’d light up their looks it was very clean looking for such a gigantic rig. Patrick Woodroffe designed that. Everything he designs has a really clean look to it. So I’d have to say he is an influence. Otherwise no, I kind of know in my head what I want this to be and if I see other ideas that other people use, I’ll try to incorporate them if I like them. Over the four years [since Phish last toured] I thought about this every day, in hopes that if the time ever came, I’d be really prepared and I’d know exactly what I wanted. I didn’t want to say ‘Oh, Phish is getting back together. I wonder what gear is out there. What should I use? What’s going on?’ I wanted to have a handle early.

JW: I know that muscle memory plays such a large role in what you do – the same physical hand movements for a given song over and over again. In the past, you had two additional board operators [and for a time, only one] who you would call cues to over a headset. You had to verbalize a large portion of the light show to them as you were working. So now that you’re no longer doing that and you’re running everything by yourself, is that a challenge?

CK: It’s a challenge as far as timing, but it’s a relief just as far as running the gig. I really enjoy it just being me. I really love not wearing that headset. I really feel apart of it. I make a lot more mistakes because I can’t call cues to other people. I’m trying to do it all. But, I can live with the mistakes for the overall picture. It’s bringing the fun back to it for me. There’s a lot of stress involved in calling cues and trying to think three different ways at once. This is just much calmer.

JW: Did calling cues over the headset to additional board operators also provide a safety net of sorts? If you’re running a big effect, you could have another effect set up and ready to go when you need it instead of having to manually execute it yourself.

CK: Yeah, that’s what I’m sacrificing. I used to be able to say ‘Set this up and stand by to run it.’ It’s easy to say that, it’s hard to actually press the buttons when you’re thinking about what’s happening in the song and what’s coming next. You can’t really let go of what’s going on onstage until all of your focus is off what is coming next. Whereas, if you’re calling it to an operator, he doesn’t care what’s going on onstage. He’s just listening to you, waiting for you to ask him to do the next thing. It’s easy on both ends in that regard. But, I’m willing to sacrifice that. I mean, one desk runs the whole show, so why shouldn’t one person run one desk?

JW: It occurred to me during the tension and release at the end of “David Bowie” last night. The band is going back and forth between two very distinct sections: the arpeggios and the cacophonous buildup and you use two very different lighting cues to accent each. Now that you no longer have an additional board operator running separate cues, you have to get from one cue to the next on your own, very quickly. The lights have to physically ‘jump’ from one effect to the other.

CK: I try to use different lighting systems so that you don’t see that too often. But yeah, it’s challenging. The way we used to run that section is both operators would set something up and I’d have something up on my system. I’d black out and they’d bump in. I’d bump in and they’d black out, all on ‘stand by and go’. While I’m in, I’d say ‘Please set this up next. Stand by to bump it in.’ I mean, I have so much work to do here. I have this vision of making a “David Bowie” button that does that. It would be seven or eight effects and back to the stage and however many times they do it, it’s all set up for me instead of having to grab and choose in eight seconds where I’m going to need it again. It’s stuff for the future that I’ll get to someday, but for now there’s no time. I barely get things ready to do the gig each day as it is without adding anything new.

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