Lighting the way
Seven songs, 16 minutes and 40,000 dancing lights.
That is what those who drive down the little cul de sac to 12 Apache Plume in Las Maravillas will hear and see for the next several weeks.
For the second year in a row, homeowner Kevin Lederer is turning his two-story house into a leaping, spinning, flashing ode to carols and lights.
Several years ago, Lederer happened across a video on YouTube. It showed a house decked out in Christmas lights, synchronized to blink and flash in time with the Trans Siberian Orchestra’s well known instrumental tune, “Wizards of Winter.”
Lederer said his immediate reaction was, “I can do that. My dad was an electronics guru and I was always doing electrical work as a kid.”
So he started shopping around for lights, controllers and sequencing software.
“I found stuff for commercial lighting, like what they use in Las Vegas. It was just too expensive,” he says.
An old hand at tinkering with electronics systems, thanks to 20 years in the heating and air conditioning industry, before transitioning into his current career in communications, Lederer decided to take the do-it-yourself approach.
While looking for Christmas lights, circuit boards and transistors, Lederer found a group online called Do-It-Yourself Light Animation. The DIY group is made up of men and women who do light animation as a hobby, Lederer said.
“We give each other input and trouble-shoot projects,” he said. “We have members in places like Australia and England, but we’re mostly in the U.S.”
Not only did the group turn out to be a wealth of information on how to build animated light displays, but it also puts out the word when lights go on sale at the end of the holiday season.
“You can pick up strings of lights for 50 cents each instead of $4 each,” Lederer said.
And that’s helpful to someone like Lederer who increased his lights from 9,500 last year to the 40,000 this year.
His garage is home to piles of naked circuit boards and piles of transistors, waiting to be soldered together into something that will make the night come alive with light.
Every part of the display is made by Lederer, his friends and family, even curious neighborhood children.
“If we’re working in here, they want to know what we’re doing,” he said. “I’ll show them how to put the boards together and let them help. It’s a lot of fun to see their eyes glow.”
Even the strings of lights that outline his home’s eaves are custom made from what Lederer calls “old-school bulbs and the newest in sequencing technology.”
He made the strings himself, so that the red and green bulbs were spaced just right for the display.
The sequencing software he uses comes from fellow DIY-ers and is designed for fun, not profit. The current version is called Vixen and the new release will be called Prancer.
“You can buy the sequencing software, but it doesn’t have the fun names,” Lederer said.
And sequencing the lights isn’t a quick or easy task. After he lays down a beat line to follow for every track, Lederer spends about three hours of sequencing for every minute of music.
His first song last year, “Wizards of Winter,” took 23 hours for its four-and-a-half minutes.
“There’s a learning curve for this,” he laughed.
This year, Lederer has made some improvements to the display. Keeping up with the times, he has set up a Wi-Fi network to connect all the control panels to his laptop instead of relying on 2,000-plus feet of ethernet cable like last year.
So just how do you get to 40,000 lights? It’s not hard, says Lederer.
On what he has dubbed his “Bellagio sticks,” named after the Bellagio Hotel’s water, music and light show, the tall ones have 1,200 lights while the short ones have 400.
There are eight mini trees with 300 lights — 100 in red, 100 in white and 100 in green.
A nearby Spanish broom is covered in 1,200 lights and the mega tree sports 1,600.
“They just keep adding up,” he said.
As Christmas nears, Lederer says he will be adding even more features to the display — two more Bellagio sticks, two more arches and another mega tree.
To keep viewers warm and comfortable in their cars and to avoid having a boom box on his front lawn playing the music, Lederer was able to obtain an FM radio frequency from the FCC.
“You can go to their website and find a list of open frequencies. It’s very short range, maybe down to the end of the block,” he said.
One of the FCC conditions for using the frequency is to not make money from the transmission, Lederer.
“You can’t transmit people’s music and make money. Otherwise you’re a commercial radio station and that’s a whole other thing,” he said.
The show kicks off with a public service announcement voiced by his high school friend, Jim Kipping. Kipping just happens to be the national spokesperson for Netflix and Dish Network, Lederer said.
The message, written by Lederer’s 14-year-old daughter, Emma, asks viewers to be courteous, not block driveways and remain in their vehicles.
“I just wanted to see if I could do it. This is just a hobby. I love seeing people enjoy it,” he said. “I think this is good for the community. It’s something that makes people a little happier this time of year.”
Last year’s show featured numbers from the renowned Trans Siberian Orchestra to pop singer P!nk.
Lederer said he will include some tunes from last year and will be incorporating new ones from such greats as Gene Autry and Louis Armstrong.
As viewers approach Lederer’s house, they should tune their radios to 92.9 FM.
The show starts every evening at 5 p.m. and goes until 11 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays.
On Sundays through Thursdays, the show stops at 10 p.m. Lederer said the display will run from 5 p.m. to midnight on Christmas and New Years eves.
To see videos of the light display from last year, visit www.listentothelightsnm.com or www.vimeo.com and search for Kevin Lederer.
-- Email the author at email@example.com.