Behind the scenes of Lights on Display, with projects, tips and relevant links.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Music Selection

Music is definitely the heart and soul of a Christmas display. Back in the old days, even before home based computer controlled lighting existed, I would create a selection of songs to play in the yard for my display. Back then, the music wasn't played from a CD, computer or mp3 controller, but a 12 minute looped cassette. The selection included a few Christmas classics, which helped set the holiday mood and brought the simple static display to life, giving it a soundtrack.

Nowadays, music is the driving force of the display. It sets the tone, tells a story and creates emotion. Each year around late Spring or early Summer, I choose the music for the upcoming holiday season. I search my large collection of Christmas songs, as well as comb through the iTunes music store, looking for something new and different. As I listen to the songs, I try to envision the lights, animatronics and video interpreting and supporting the words and music. My selection usually begins with some type of instrumental or lyrical overture, followed by a selection of up-tempo songs with lyrics. I always like to include a slow meaningful song that draws upon the spirit of the holidays, family and memories. It provides a soundtrack to some family photos or home movies from days gone by. To me, this is very important, and helps to bring some real emotion to the display, connecting the viewer to the warmth of their own Christmas memories. I close the display with an up-tempo grand finale and holiday sendoff. 

My shows run approximately 9-10 minutes. I find a full song to become very repetitive, especially for a synchronized light routine, so I edit them down to 1-1.5 minutes in length. This helps to move the show along, keeping the lighting and supporting elements fresh and unique. My goal is to seamlessly connect the songs together, creating a continuos show, which flows from song to song. I sometimes use instrumental elements such as cymbal crashes or swells to help blend the songs together or emphasize a moment.

A few years back, I introduced an animated character to my show by the name of "DJ Jingles." He appears on video as the show's emcee, spinning the hits and introducing characters such as "Frosty" and the "Holly Jolly Dancers." He's become the perfect character to greet the guests and keep the show rolling right along. 

When I program my songs, I listen for the beat, but I also pay close attention to the melody. It's very much like editing a music video. The video is often cut to the beat, while there may often be moments in which a shot is held for a period of time, allowing the viewer to register the action or content. There are also times when the music is slow, calling for dissolves between shots or dips to black, creating some emotion or drama. These video techniques are similar to the techniques used in the sequencing of the lights. The tinkling of piano keys can equal the twinkling of lights, or a guitar rift can translate the chasing of lights across the yard. Musical builds can also be conveyed by raising the intensity of the lights followed by a flash of strobes. Check out my collection of display videos to see how I translated some of my favorite Christmas tunes into a multi-media holiday show.

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