When you see the music video for the latest song from The Lights Out , you’ll think this band is out of this world. This is fitting since their album, T.R.I.P. (short for “The Reckonings in Pandimensionality”), features songs that are styled as reports from alternate realities.
For the release of this album the band is taking a multisensory approach. They’re gearing up for performances with LED encrusted instruments and goggles for a DIY light show. They’ve even partnered with Aeronaut Brewing to create a beer inspired by their music, which then ties in with a social media campaign (when someone tweets the trigger from the beer label, the band will respond by telling that person what they’re doing in a parallel universe).
“You’ve got visual, touch, smell, taste, and sound all happening at once. Engaging every sense is an unforgettable way for someone to experience a new piece of music,” explains Adam Ritchie, guitarist for the Lights Out.
Watch the band’s music video for “Waves of Sound” here first, then read our interview with drummer and DIYer extraordinaire Jesse James Salucci to learn more about how he created “The Color Machine” to add animated LED lights to The Lights Out performances.
Jesse James Salucci is the drummer for The Lights Out and the creator of “The Color Machine”, an integrated system of wearable lights and LED integrated instruments that add an animated visual element to the band’s performances. We wanted to know what gave him the idea for the Color Machine and how he pulled it off to create such a killer visual effect.
How’d you get into music? DIY/Industrial design? (Is there an overlap in your interests here?)
My father is a professional musician and raised us in a very musical home. He’s also a drummer, so I get a lot of my drumming style from him. When I was a kid, he signed to Atlantic Records and sang TV commercial jingles for Coca Cola, AT&T, NERF, Pizza Hut and K’nex. I spent a lot of time with him in our small home recording studio and would often sneak in and “borrow” instruments to make my own recordings on my own little 4-track portastudio.
My DIY background comes from both of my parents, who always tried to make something rather than buy it, and fix things themselves rather than hire a repairman. Through them, I learned 92% of broken things can be fixed with rubbing alcohol, a can of WD40, a roll of duct tape or some combination of the above.
What gave you the idea for this project?
The band and I had been going to Burning Man for a few years, wearing sound-reactive EL wire luchador costumes I designed for our camp. Whenever we walked around at night, we’d be mobbed by people shouting compliments and wanting to take pictures with us. The same thing happened when we wore them on 6th Street in Austin, after playing South by Southwest. It dawned on us that we felt more like rock stars in those moments than we ever had on stage.
We saw indie bands putting significant thought into their music, but not as much into visually engaging their audience. People at shows were staring at their cell phones. The amazing LED-based attire I saw in Black Rock City gave me the spark of an idea to completely transform our live show and get those eyeballs and cameras aimed at us.
Did you make it just for the video or will you be taking it to live shows as well?
This music video for “Waves of Sound” is the worldwide debut of The Color Machine in action, but it’s become an integral part of our live experience. We use it for all of our performances.
Are the lights following a preset sequence or are they responding to input as your band plays?
I animate each song like a music video. With The Color Machine I can transform my drums into a rising sunrise to punctuate a poignant lyric, or coat Adam’s guitar in shooting stars as he races through the crowd to climb the highest object in the room and rip a guitar solo. I considered using sound reaction, but grew frustrated with the limitations of responding to inputs like volume or tempo, when I wanted the ability to set moods with specific colors and patterns.
What components did you use?
The brain of The Color Machine is an 8-channel SD card LED microcontroller I purchased from AliExpress.com. I hardwired each of the channels to an XLR audio jack that would serve as a more durable connector for each band member to quickly plug their light cable into on a dark stage. It uses a very basic PC-only software called LED Edit that allows you to map LED strips onto a canvas, and then capture video files or screen grabs and send them to the strips. I figured out a way to take this map, recreate it in Adobe After Effects and use it as a visual guide.
This guide allows me to animate with the knowledge that any colors in a specific spot will appear on the corresponding location of a guitar or drum. I animate each song to a version recorded at a specific tempo, which allows everything to sync up when we play live. It’s a byzantine system using things that were never supposed to be used together, but when they are, it creates unique visual effects onstage.
Were there any interesting challenges in making this?
There were plenty! For one, after I figured out how to create light shows that would appear on our bodies and instruments, I still had to figure out how to keep the band synced to the light show so everything lines up from moment to moment. I experimented with a series of blinking lights in my goggles to follow like a metronome, but I learned quickly that keeping time to a visual metronome while playing drums is much harder than synchronizing to an audio click.
I eventually settled on a hybrid approach where I start the metronome in time with a series of lights I see flashing across my toms. Another creative challenge I faced was in how to illuminate the front skin of my kick drum. I really wanted it to look like a tunnel of lights without having to actually fill my bass drum with LED strips. I solved this by creating the illusion of multiple strips with an infinity mirror. By floating a two-way plexiglass mirror in front of a mirrored drum skin and sandwiching an LED strip in between, I was able to give the illusion of an infinite series of LED rings inside the drum.
Next, I had to figure out how we could mic the drum when we play live, since the skin was now behind a plate of plexiglass and I didn’t want to cut a hole in it. I solved this by installing a permanent mic on a bungee system inside the kick drum. The entire project was full of unique challenges and a subsequent series of odd experiments to solve them.
Do you think you’ll keep making cool lighting setups or other stage pieces for the band in the future?
We plan to evolve the show through the addition of new elements and songs. I purposely bought an 8-channel controller because I knew we would only need to use four of them to start: one for each band member’s XLR light “umbilical cord.” We’re mulling over adding an LED stage curtain and projected elements. One recent addition is the ability for Adam, our lead guitarist, to untether and enter a Super Mario’esque blinking state when he runs into the crowd. Another new feature is the set of glowing UV-charged drumsticks I pull out to lightsaber my way through a song.