Tutorial – how to make lights react to music!

We’ve got a lot of nice feedback from our
last video, the performance we did at Prague
Quadriennal so we decided to make a tutorial video about how we did the performance because quite many people were asking
about technical details. So, we are going to show You how it was
done! You might think that in order to create some cool and awesome lighting
installation You need a lot of technology and
expensive gadgets, but this is not true. In order to re-create our SoundKitchen
installation, there are couple of things You might need
to buy, but this is definitely not a high-budget
performance! The first thing You are going to need is a
program called LightJams. You can download it’s free trial from the
internet. This program allows You to control lights
by incoming audio signals. You will need a special cable to connect
Your computer to Your lights. This will convert data from USB to a
lighting standard called DMX. This cable is very much used in theatre
and showbusiness, You can buy this kind of a cable for about
30 euros. If You have some smartlamps around, that change colour and move around by
themselves, You can probably connect DMX cable
directly to the lamp. We, on the other hand, wanted to use
regular household lamps for our performance. To control the lights we are going to use
this big box here. This is called the dimmer, and what it
does is to control the voltage of electricity, so we can control the intensity of the light
bulbs. This one here cost me about 500 euros, but You can find similar one starting from
200 euros. My dimmer here has this very big power
plug, but I’m using an adapter to connect it to
my living room wall, So that I can use it at home. I can connect up to 6 lamps to this
dimmer and I have attached one that we are going
to try out now how it works with a LightJams. I have set LightJams to respond to the
sound from laptop microphone so I can influence lamp here with every
sound that I make Using the microphone is quite simple. You just plug it in and have fun. What You should understand about it, is that microphone, or even MP3, gives
you a solid signal It only has one parameter – volume. Which means means that there is no
difference between voice, the sound of drums behind you or your
cat meowing in the background. If You want to do more than that, You
should use MIDI. MIDI is a technology that allows computer
and digital musical instruments exchange information and talk to each
other. Usually they exchange the MIDI
messages. MIDI message contains information about
velocity, tone, pitch and all the other parameters of the note. Or basically each key that you press. The technology was invented quite a
while ago, so now even the entry level keyboards
have the MIDI inputs and outputs, those five-pin ones on the back of Your
keyboard. Some soundcards, and I mean
professional soundcards, come with the MIDI inputs as well, however most of us are using those
built-in soundcards. So what You will need is the actual
adapter, thatwill convert MIDI into USB. You can pick up one of those for about 50
euros in Your local music store. If You have the modern keyboards
however, they already have the USB-MIDI. So You just plug it into Your computer
plug it into Your set and we are ready to go! Now You can play a round with Your
keyboards, triggering the different lamps. We, however, went a bit further – we had
different musical parts controlling various lamps at the same
time. Let me explain how it works. To do this You will need a special kind of
software called the sequencer. There are a lots of differents sequencers
on the market, I’m using the one called Cubase, but you can find much cheaper options
like program called Reaper. Now, MIDI standard has 16 channels which means that You have 16 streams of
MIDI messages that can go at the same time, controlling
the sounds of your keyboard – any parameter of the sound -, or the
actual loudness. Now, I believe that even after watching
this video, You still have some questions. You can contact us! Go to our website
and send us a message! We’ll gladly help You with any questions
You might have about the project. And there is one more thing. Down in the description You can find a
link to Johanna’s submission to the Philips
Light World Tour. So please go there and vote for her! if You want to see more cool videos from
us and especially from her, travelling around the world and
writing stuff about the lights and all these fancy
things. Thanks for watching! Bye!

20 thoughts on “Tutorial – how to make lights react to music!

  1. Toomas @DareToLight: Indeed, I hope that Johannas landlord won't see it 🙂 But on the serious side, Johanna – can you estimate, how many watts the whole thing (dimmer + 5-6 regular household lamps) will pull? I can easily calculate the lamps, but how much does dimmer consume in this mode?

  2. Johanna @toomasroolaid I think my flat will be fine, I am not using the dimmer at the full capacity (yes, this monster can take up to 2300W per channel!)
    When dimmed, the lights consume less electricity than when burning on full, so the dimmer actually saves up energy. There is a small amount that it consumes by itself (as it is another thing added to the circuit), but it's nothing that I would really calculate with.

  3. Okay so just calling it a dimmer really doesn't help me. Could you post a link to this comment to a page where i could buy one.

  4. Hopefully this isn't a dumb question, but everything you set up is what i'm calling input reaction, each light reacting to a live played sound. Does this work the same way for songs from a computer? Basically what i'm asking is if I linked up the dimmer and the program to my computer, and I play a song, can i set each light to react with a certain sound? Red for bass, blue for symbols crashes, etc etc. Please get back to me soon! Thank you!

  5. Hi I was wondering if you could tell me more about the dimmer your using? -model etc

  6. If you play a music file on your computer, it will be just one signal of music. For the bass and cymbals to be distinguished as different inputs for the program, they will need to be played from different MIDI channels like we did. If you have a simple mp3 of music, the program can distinguish the intensity and maybe beat, but not separate instruments.

  7. It's a generic theatre dimmer by some German manufacturer. It has 6 channels, works with max. 10A and 2300W (at 230V) per channel.
    Most dimmer manufacturers have a small dimmer like this in their product list, it's best to consult your local lighting shop about which one they could recommend. There are of course also smaller ones with one or three channels, and larger ones with 12 or 24 channels that need industrial power to work.

  8. Thanks so much!! I'm not tech at all, I've just started an art project where I'm trying to synchronise the motor (1600w) on a vacuum hoover with an audio track. do you think this might do it? (Eurolite DMX Dimmer Pack 2300 Watt Channel-Lighting Controller) can you use midi on all dimmers? Thanks again!!

  9. And as a reply to your other question – MIDI has nothing to do with the dimmer, we just run MIDI into the computer program, the computer talks to the dimmer in DMX language 🙂

  10. Eurolite makes nice affordable dimmers, but motors don't work the same way as light bulbs.
    What I remember from physics class – motors are inductive loads, but dimmers work on resistive loads – I guess in the best case the hoover will break when controlled by a dimmer.
    I have seen some appliances that control the speed of fans and ventilators (but am in no way a specialist) – this might be something to research. Hooking it up with music is another issue. Sorry I cannot be of more help!

  11. "Some people think you need expensive equipment and software to make lights react to music.But that's not true, all you need is expensive equipment and software."

  12. does anybody have an idea how to do this without the software, completely with electronics?

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