Going Solo with Annie Lennox

On the surface, it looks like a sophisticated film shoot, at least for a moment or two. There are Lowel-Light DP Photo Floods on stands, hovering in the background. The air is somewhat hazy. The stage is filled with people. Then the speakers come alive with the absolutely stunning voice of former Eurythmics lead singer Annie Lennox.

Lennox is out on her first solo tour, and Lighting Dimensions caught up with her at the Scottish Rite Theater at the Masonic Temple in Detroit. An odd choice, this tiny theatre, but that was the intent of this production: to put Lennox in venues that were different. “All of them are a bit unusual; it's a bit of a teaser,” comments LD Simon Sidi. The tease worked, and the Masonic Temple proved to be the perfect choice.

Sidi worked with Lennox the last time she was on tour, with the Eurythmics, in 1999. Now that she has gone solo, the LD is back behind the Icon desk. “When they rung me about the tour, my first thought was, ‘Oh my God, what are we going to do?’” Sidi says. “‘This is Annie Lennox on her own for the first time ever; it has to be really good and meaningful. And it's got to be simple.’”

After the last Eurythmics tour, Sidi knew that changes were the order of the day. “On the last tour, we had a few redesigns to do,” he says. Knowing the possibility for major changes, the LD went into the early meetings prepared. “I wanted to make sure this time around that everybody got what they wanted,” he explains. There were, of course, long meetings and many changes, but one element did survive: “Projection was always there, in the background,” Sidi says. “Originally, we wanted to do things with moving screens, and it suddenly got very tricksy. Then we decided we wanted to be much more simple, which is actually much, much better.” Although there are projections in the production, they are incredibly restrained, confined to only a handful of songs. “We never wanted projections to be the show — it was about Annie and the band, and that fact was very important,” notes the designer.

The projections represent a mix of still and video imagery. “We had all of these ideas on how we were going to do the projection,” Sidi says. “We looked at the [High End Systems] Catalyst, we looked at the MBox. We were going to run it all through the Icon desk and, in the end, I walked into rehearsals and decided to do it with a laptop computer.” The designer's computer of choice is an Apple PowerBook, with a handy program. “We're using a piece of software called Keynote, which is their version of PowerPoint. It's really powerful and it's easy to reprogram every night, if we want to,” Sidi says. “We just plug the computer in every day and press the space bar for the next image,” he notes.

One of the show's most visually arresting moments comes during the song “Bitter Pill.” The black-and-white image on the screen comes alive, and, in sync with the music, a raindrop falls into a puddle as a “ping” is heard. “It's really the only bit of video we use; the rest are stills or very slow fades,” Sidi says. The synchronization of the video with the audio could have been complex, but Sidi's key word was simplicity. “We were going to MIDI it all together and use SMPTE time code, so that we could have it exactly synchronized to the ‘ping’ in the song. Then I said, ‘Can't we just press the button at the right time?’ And that's what we do.”

Outside of the stark imagery from the projections, four pantographs with Light and Sound Design Icons® make an interesting, yet subtle, visual statement. “The reason for the pantographs wasn't because they looked pretty,” Sidi explains; “it was because we wanted to keep things simple and small.” Keeping things simple also meant keeping his overall number of instruments down. “We wanted the show to fit everywhere, and we wanted to have lights in different positions. But we didn't want to have loads and loads of lights,” he says. Hence the choice of the pantographs, which glide seamlessly, via a simple track-and-pulley system, through the air. “We just move the lights to where we want them to be at any particular moment,” he says. The movement is very subtle, and, to be honest, something that most concert-goers wouldn't notice. “We didn't want to make the pantographs obvious, and we certainly didn't want them moving during the songs. There's only one moment where they do that, and that's during an introduction, because we have to get them to a certain point and we just don't have time between songs,” the designer says.

Completing Sidi's visual look are the Lowel-Light DP Photo Floods, which completely change the mood of the show the moment they're turned on. “Annie loves the Lowel DPs, and I love them as well,” Sidi says. “They take you back to the early '80s, at the start of her career, especially all of the shadows — it's really punk,” he explains. The Lowel DPs have almost a sepia tone to them, which isn't by chance. “I put gold reflectors on them, not silver, because I like them to be warmer, and I think they're much more powerful when they're warmer,” Sidi says. The Lowel DPs are also used separately from the automated fixtures. “They don't mix properly,” Sidi observes. “I use the groundrows and the Lowel DPs together with the lekos and the 2ks, then the Icons and the [High End] Studio Colors® do their own thing.”

Sidi programmed the show himself on an Icon Console. “I love it; I've used them for years and they keep getting better and better.” The programming itself is a bit of a work in progress, though. “We'll be programming during the last show,” Sidi admits. “The show is always developing and there's always little things you can bring in and adjust.”

In the end, the biggest challenge was one that Sidi set up for himself. “Keeping it really simple is challenging; it's what I like to do, but it can be difficult,” he says. “You have to look at something and decide if it's too complicated, and if it is, you end up simplifying it.”

Annie Lennox's Solo tour ended in June. However, it might be back for another round, with some minor adjustments. “If we do arenas, it'll be the same show,” the LD asserts. “What I want to do is bring in another eight pantographs, but this time they'll be automated,” he adds. Stay tuned.

Contact the author at [email protected].


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18 High End Systems Studio Color 575s
4 ETC 19° Source Fours
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15 Lowel-Light DP Photo Flood kits with DP head, barndoors, stands, and gold reflectors
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4 50' sections of festoon lights
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