Does this describe you? You’re probably more musical than you give yourself credit for being, but when you’re just getting started, it’s sometimes hard to figure out exactly what you might want to do with a song — what lights you want to turn on when and where. Here are some ideas that can help you get going and put on a successful show.
It all really boils down to this: Do things that make your viewers comfortable.
English-speaking people read left-to-right and from the top to the bottom of a page. Our eyes are trained to look left-to-right, and when you see someone coming toward you for the first time, you’ll probably look at his/her eyes and face first and then work your way down, sometimes stopping along the way… When a visitor stops in front of your display, his/her eyes will naturally follow in the same order, left-to-right. People are comfortable when things follow the same order that they’re used to seeing. So if you decide to do a wave of lights across your whole display, the viewer is likely to get more good vibes out of the effect when the lights go from left-to-right than they will going right-to-left. Try it sometime for yourself and you’ll see what I mean.
In like fashion, we usually associate “high” with “up” and “low” with “down.” We even speak this way, lifting our chins upward and possibly raising our voices during mid-sentence while the voice usually drops to a lower pitch at the sentence’s end. Thus sounds are even associated with height. It’s also associated with left-and-right orientation, too. For example, when you increase the volume on your iPod or other favorite listening device, what direction do you turn the knob or swipe your finger? Yes, left to right or turning the knob clockwise is usually thought of as “increase” while the reverse is “decrease.” So when the pitch of music it high, it probably makes sense to light things in your display that are high as well — a soprano’s voice, a flute or piccolo, or even a violin for example could be lit higher on your display than the drums and basses, which might be simulated by lighting some low bushes. A mega-tree that “spins” the lights around the tree will be much more visually pleasing when it spins clockwise than if it is spun counter-clockwise. We think of clockwise as “forward” and counter-clockwise as “backward.” We’re comfortable when things are moving in a “forward” direction but less comfortable when it’s the opposite.
Consider volume and tempo (speed). When a song is gentle and soft, we think of “cooler” colors such as blue, dark purple and green; when the music is firery and wild, we think of red, white, yellow and orange. For example, the familiar song “Silent Night” is actually a lullaby to the baby Jesus. Lighting “Silent Night” with wild blinking bright red, yellow and white lights seems a little incongruous for a lullaby, wouldn’t you think? And when the music is loud, bright lights seem more appropriate than dim lights, and of course, the reverse is true, too.
When the lights and music match one another it gives the viewer-listener a pleasant effect. When the lights don’t match the music it leaves the viewer less comfortable, less fulfilled. So think about the lights and music as a package — make the colors, locations and brightness of your show match the music you want to use and your visitors will give you rave reviews — and come back year after year.