By cyclops

Set me Free

On the way in to work this morning, the old dance track "Set me Free" by "N-Trance" came on rather unexpectedly in the middle of a mediocre compilation.  I love that track.

For some reason (possibly related to medication I'm taking!) it evoked an unusually visceral memory for me.

I'm going back more than 20 years, probably to a Friday afternoon.  I'm in a small tech box, surrounded by windows, looking out onto an empty dancefloor which in a few hours will be heaving with 350+ people.  I'm listening to a portable minidisc player hooked up to the control room monitors, a pair of JBL Control 1s through an amp slung under the bare wood desk that runs across the front of the box.  I'm listening to a collection of new dance singles I know the DJs will be playing tonight.

"Robo Babe", a PC running a Martin 2032 lighting controller glows monochromatically in front of me, as my ball-mouse skips on the rough wooden desk, controlling a spot of light on the floor from a Martin RoboScan 1020.  A kilowatt of light, piped past a fast shutter, dichroic filters and gobos on to a lightweight mirror controllable in two planes using precision stepper motors.  I have 8 of these at my fingertips, and another 8 Roboscan 1005s - smaller, less powerful, but even faster and mounted lower so they fire into the crowd's sightlines.

I'm playing about with shapes, colours, and motion to build sequences I can use later.  I plot the state of each RoboScan for each step in the sequence laboriously, before playing it and tweaking it until I'm happy.  The results have names ranging from the descriptive ("slow blue wash") to the ridiculous ("spanner splog", "yellow fart").  

The mouse interface on the controller is far too clunky to keep up with musical cues runing a show live . Instead I'll map the sequences I design onto a 2532 fast access controller on the stage, so I can bring them up and overlay effects from an array of dedicated keys.  The names and descriptions of the sequences are written on paper cut from the back of an old poster and loosely thumb-screwed down behind a plastic protector.  

This intelligent lighting controller will sit next to the controls for the rest of the rig.  A strobe controller for 8 2kW strobes.  A dedicated controller for 40m or so of arcline.  A touch controller for a Genesis effect on a Lynx hoist that let's me lower it from the ceiling and has yet another controller.  A Zero88 Mercury controlling a hundred or more gelled pinspots, along with some light tunnels and light bars.

Fast forward a few hours.  The room is hot and filled with smoke and 300 plus dancing and sweating bodies.  On the stage sits an enormous metal bench, weighed down with paving slabs, where a pair of Technics SL1200 decks sit either side of a Citronic mixer.  My friends play records on real vinyl, from 10 heavy record boxes behind them.  Underneath the table holding the records sit a couple of cases of beer - now with plenty of gaps in.  The cold bottles sweat almost as much as the dancers and the stage crew.

LEDs on the lighting controllers pulse and flicker in time to the music.  One of the tracks I was listening to earlier - Set me Free - comes on, and my fingers flick over buttons corresponding to the new the new programs that I think will work with it.  I'm pleased with the results - I'm loving the moment I'm in, working with friends, contributing in a small way to making other people's night out a success.  Having a beer while I do it.

The traffic light goes green and I'm following a bus round the corner, carefully staying in lanes as we cross the busy road.  The music continues, and I'm grinning at the memory, but the spell is broken.  

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