All lit up at the 2016 Sasquatch! Festival as M83 plays their awesome set in the background.

All lit up at the 2016 Sasquatch! Festival as M83 plays their awesome set in the background.

Music Festival LED Tie

August 17, 2016

From December 2015 to May 2016, I designed and 3D printed a tie that I wore to the Sasquatch! Music Festival. While future videos to come will explain a bunch of the details, here are the basics.

Engineering Expression

So what does one get from their art? What do others?

I am the first to admit that I am not quite a studied artist, and as such, I don't really have the words to describe some of the meaning and feeling around any art that I create. But I will do my best to explore how I can. In some later posts, I will go through the design and creation process I wen't through to create what I called Lux v1. Here, though, I kind of want to lay out the reasoning behind why I created the project, what it means to me, and what I hope future iterations can portray.

I have been going to music festivals with friends every year for over six years now. And I started to see this trend in flashing, blinking lights. Especially when the sun goes down, the crowd is spotted with LED devices of all sorts just rotating through colors. Soon after that, I got myself a pair of really cheap gloves with flashing LEDs at the tips of the fingers. That was fun, but ultimately, looking around, I felt something was missing.

See, all these lights are super cheap. Even the best designed festival lights simply flash different colors and maybe respond to some motion. There are perhaps a few interesting devices that respond to the music, but none that really captured the essence of being at a festival and feeling the noise vibrate your chest. Whole communities have popped up around using things like glove lights, poi with LEDs in them, and various other light up devices. In researching, I found that theBurning Man Festival even has a an unofficial motto that you should light yourself at night to avoid being trampled in the dark. And as one of the tenants of Burning Man is to have some radical self-expression, you get some pretty amazing light-up costumes.

So, starting as an idea discussed one late night with friends, I decided to begin a project that would combine the bright, flashing lights, with some sort of wearable interactivity. Something that would show that it felt the music that everyone else was feeling. Something that combined my strengths in computer science with a hobby of electronics. Something that took the flashing to a new level and showed off reactionary colors that changed with the music.

I'll get into the details of the actual device in later posts, but what did I want to get out of this? Well, one the first things is that I definitely wanted to have something I was wearing outwardly show my excitement for the music I was listening to. I think a bunch of people normally dance or clap along. I wanted an extension of that, simply taking those concepts and making them super visible in the dark.

I basically wanted the lights I was wearing to dance long with me.

So, when I started to research about what was possible, I knew I wanted something like the RaspberryPi to control the whole thing. So I poked around, and realized that a whole industry of makers had popped up. I had always been interested in electronics, and now that the internet created some global community of makers and hackers, there was a plethora of amazing companies getting some sweet parts and tutorials to users. The rest, you can find people doing some awesome things with LEDs and micro computers on YouTube, Reddit and around the internet.

In fact, as I type this, I found another cool (and admittedly very similar) project to mine. A totem to take to festivals. Remarkably, this setup is incredibly similar to mine, though I feel I have a few cool parts I'll examine in later posts. So, my project itself is nothing incredibly novel. 

But that's not really the point, I suppose. Like I said above, one of the reasons I really wanted to do something for a festival was to have the light dance along with me. It's captivating to me and the people around me. But there's also the other aspects: having an outlet for creative energy, discovering new programming languages/systems/techniques that I don't get to play with day to day at my 9-5, investigating the new, cool hardware that's out there to play with, and perhaps making people think a little about how humans interact with the changes we make to the physical world.

I ended up creating something that got quite a bit of "whoa, that's cool" from pretty much everyone that looked at it. And I got that sort of self-expression that I was hoping for. And now I have a ton of ideas for the next iteration of this. I found out what worked, and what didn't both physically, and from what I wanted the reaction around me to be. So, as I document the stages of creation of this past project, I'll be thinking about how to feed it all into my next one. 🔌