Yesterday, Tuesday, October 9th, Phish‘s lighting designer and “fifth member of the band,” Chris Kuroda, appeared on a special free webcast on LiveDesignOnline.com that was sponsored by Blizzard Lighting. During his hour-and-fifteen-minute presentation, Kuroda spoke on his 30 years of experience as Phish’s lighting designer with a focus on how the production has evolved, particularly in the last two years. In addition to explaining why these changes in lights have occurred, CK5 got technical, breaking down and explaining his highly customized production elements that set Phish apart from other live acts.
Chris Kuroda first spoke about how he got into lighting design and his history with Phish, initially joining with the group when he was a computer science major in college and Phish was merely a small, local bar band (“My first gig with Phish was in a bar where there were four people in attendance, and one of them was the bartender.”). Starting off as a fan first, Kuroda eventually became a guitar student of Trey Anastasio, with Trey one day asking if he’d help the band load in and out. About a week later, the band procured a small lighting rig, and Kuroda was the only person available out of Phish’s two-man crew to run them. Kuroda elaborated,
I remember having a conversation with Trey and saying, “I don’t even know how to set these things up. You want me to do this?” He just looked at me and said, “You know what, Chris? We’ll just figure it out together.” We got to a bar gig somewhere in Burlington, and he and I set them up together and figured it out. Once I had a handle on how that worked, it kind of went from there.
During the presentation, he also talked about following the Grateful Dead when he was younger and how the Dead’s lighting designer, Candace Brightman, ultimately influenced his own work. Chris Kuroda used this point as a launching point to describe the key tenants of how he has approached designing lights for Phish. He explained,
I took her style as a skeletal base and then built my style from there, but I knew types of moves I wanted to do which were similar to her. I wanted to do big, slow sweeps through the audience on choruses and use complimentary colors together to build my looks. The other thing—which she didn’t necessarily do—that I was a big fan of was symmetry, so I would often design all my lighting designs and rigs to be very symmetrical. The other thing is that everybody, including myself, in the Phish world is a big fan of things being organic. They’re very purist, and I believe in that philosophy. For many years, Phish shows were just Phish, audio, and lighting. They didn’t want lasers. They didn’t video panels, at least back in those days. They just wanted pure lighting, good sound, and the band playing on stage.
From there, Kuroda talked about various Phish lighting rigs from 2010 until today. With slides of different lighting designs and set-ups from the last decade, he spoke on the background and intent behind these various designs, how they consciously evolved from one to another, and the technical gear behind them.
About two-thirds through the presentation, Chris Kuroda switched gears to the band’s current lighting rig. He explained,
The band came to me early last year and basically said in the simplest form, “We feel like we don’t want to tell you what we want this year.” ‘Cause they drove the desire for video, they drove the desire to get away from the circle trusses. “We don’t want to tell you what we want. We want you to tell us what you want to do.” I quite simply said, “I already know what I want to do. I want to take a bunch of sticks of truss and throw ’em up there and move ’em around and create different shapes throughout the night and have it evolve as the night goes on.” That was basically the simple concept: 30 sticks of truss with the ability to move around and make shapes.
For those who missed out, the full webcast will be available via pay-per-view on LiveDesignOnline.com’s webcast page.