Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Visualizing Music With LEDs And Lasers

If you've been reading this blog, you probably know about the Humboldt Laser Harp project (HLH). Today's blog post is closely connected to the HLH, and addresses the general topic of ways to visualize music with LEDs and lasers.
John Van Duzer Theatre

The HLH is the first foray for the Humboldt Microcontrollers (MCUs) Group into connecting music with light. Nick A has done a little music-into-light on his own, but the HLH will be the first collaborative group project for this type of application. It will be fun to see where the HLH leads. If we can involve some of the fabulous Humboldt musicians with our projects to visualize music with LEDs and lasers, including some of the Humbodt State University students and instructors, the sky's the limit. Maybe in a couple years there will be a Humboldt Electronic Light Orchestra performance at the Van Duzer!

My first experience with music and lasers was a Laserium laser light show in Seattle -- it was an impressive and immersive experience that I really enjoyed. That was many years ago and musical-light technology has come a long way since then. At this point the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group isn't trying to replicate or out-do the Laserium experience or compete with existing advanced lighting technology in the music world. As far as I know we don't have people in the group (yet) who have the knowledge and interest to design and build top of the line music light show equipment, or the funding to buy the components. But it will be fun to see what MCU-based 'instruments' and systems we build or experiment with. It will be fun if we can get some people in the group whose main passion related to MCUs is in the area of music or music-into-light.
Echo Rises 800+ LED music-into-light system

The Hack A Day post "800+ LED Wall With Diffuser Panel is a Work of Art" was the catalyst for today's blog post. It shows a music-into-light system from Echo Rises. If you watch the video in this post closely, you'll see its title or subtitle is 'How To Visualize Music Using LEDs.' For the Humboldt Electronic Light Orchestra, I'd like to extend that theme to include lasers. The Hack A Day post gives this overview of the Echo Rises system controlled by a Teensy MCU:
"What happens when you take over 800 individually addressable super bright RGB LEDs and house them in a giant diffused panel? You get awesome...[Epoch Rises] is a small electronic music and interactive technology duo who create cool interactive projects...for their live shows and performances. They love their WS2812B can take any video input, it can be controlled by sound or music, an iPad, or even generate random imagery by itself. The 800 LEDs are controlled by a Teensy 3.0 using the OctoWS2811 library...which is capable of driving over 1000 LEDs at a whopping 30FPS using just one Teensy microcontroller."
Whoa!! Wouldn't that be fun, controlling 800 - 1000 LEDs with one tiny Teensy MCU. If we had one or two systems like that, and combined them with the HLH and Jonathan Spark's Noomis electronic musical instrument, we'd have a pretty good reason for serious and innovative musicians to collaborate with the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group.

Hack A Day also did an interview with Paul Stoffregen, the creator of the Teensy, talking about his latest version, the Teensy 3.1. You can buy the Teensy 3.1 direct from Paul's website, or from the regular places like SparkFun. I don't know of anyone who's used the Teensy, but I foresee that happening in Humboldt before too much longer.
Teensy 3.1

If you think it would be interesting, challenging and fun to help create eight or ten unique Humboldt music-to-light different but complementary systems that would form the nucleus of an awesome performance, show up tomorrow, July 23, for the next meeting of the Humboldt Microcontrollers Group. At the meeting we'll talk a little about the Humboldt Laser Harp, and also review Serial Peripheral Interface, the subject of Jeremy Blum's #8 Arduino video tutorial. See you from 6 - 8 PM at 1385 8th Street, Arcata, California, USA.


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