Thursday, November 18, 2021

Lighting is Everything

Thesis: The world you ignore is your personal cache of delight and surprise.

Corollary: The more starved you become for delight and surprise (most people grow so bored by middle age that their boredom becomes as inescapable as a black hole), the more essential it becomes to probe beyond the shiny center of your field of view.

I spent 1984 in the graduate jazz program at University of Miami, where every student gave a yearly recital. Always the same guys in the same sweaty band room, all playing the same sort of arrangements. A right of passage, nothing more.

But one student, Joe, took a different route for his recital. He booked a small campus theater run by the drama department, and persuaded/bribed a drama tech student to professionally light it. I was performing, and had to sit on my stool for hours while gaffers adjusted filters and aimed scoops, strips, and spots. This was not a situation jazz musicians often find themselves, and it was uncomfortably "show biz" for me. Finally, I began to quietly mutter, and Joe turned to me and said, with grave authority, "Lighting is everything. You'll see."

I rolled my eyes and carried on, but his recital was a completely different thing in a completely different universe, and, mind-blowingly, we actually played differently. This one recital wasn't a dull affair under the fluorescent fixtures in the sweaty band room. It felt exciting. It felt professional.

Of course, I didn't take the lesson with me. I'm just not a "check the lighting" sort of guy. But every great once in a while, I'd find myself intrigued by something that normally wouldn't capture my attention, and I'd carefully think it through until a distant voice echoed somewhere in my brain, "Lighting is everything!"

"I know! Let's throw some books in a van and call it a mobile bookshop!" said someone with a crappy van and a crappy idea that was doomed from the start. But then someone stapled nine bucks' worth of string lighting around the frame and rigged up six halogens on the ceiling, and turned it into this via the insane magic of small lighting touches:
Note to tweeter: you would absolutely not get into that van willingly if it were lit with cheap drug store fixtures or naked bulbs.

That's the power of lighting. Yet I've lived 99.99% of my life without consciously noticing or caring.

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