Friday, September 26, 2008

Topeka, Kansas Christmas Light Show: How'd They Do That?

I'm getting some questions on several fronts, so I'll try to address some of them here.

Recently, someone asked me, "So how did you guys sync up the Christmas lights to the 17 musicians in 11 different rooms when they couldn't see or hear each other?" Great question.

There are several things we are using to accomplish this...

1. Light-o-Rama sequencing software and and controllers that line up an audio track to Christmas lights (no they don't program themselves, a human needs to create the display), all the controllers are connected via network cat5 cable

2. Hearback monitoring system: each musician has a set of headphone that allow them to hear the audio click-track that the Light-o-Rama software is sending, it's like 11 recording studios going on at the same time, if Hearback isn't your bag — then Aviom has nice monitoring systems

3. Mic each instrument and send it back to an audio mixing console

4. Main audio mix is sent to a Ramsey Electronics FM35BWT low-power FM radio transmitter set to a station that is weak in our area, you can check out weak radio signals here, this radio signal is sent to the cars who watch the production from the parking lot

Originally I thought there would be a noticeable lag between the lights and radio transmitted audio — but there was none to notice. If there was a lag in the sync, we would have shifted the Light-o-Rama sequence by a fraction of second to sync it up.

It's amazing how gelled the sound is when they are simply playing with a recorded version with click track for reference. And by the way, there was NO recorded music sent in the mix — contrary to what people thought. You heard all the mistake...which were few. We wanted it to be real — so none of the music was pre-recorded. The only pre-recorded part was the cheesy narration I did (which will be done by someone else this year).

Work began on the 2008 light show several months ago. Script is done. New concepts are in place. Additional controllers were assembled this week by two skilled guys at TBC (Matt "Sparks" Ottman, an Electrical Engineer professional; and Evan "cat5" Bonous, an Information Technology professional). Thanks guys.

If you want to stop by 11th and Mulvane on December 12, 13, or 14th - shows are 15 minutes long and begin at 6:00, 6:45, 7:30, 8:15, and 9:00pm for our 2008 show.

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