Step 9: Set up your software

So you've got this awesome relay box, now what? What you need now is software to control the relays. The software works by sending data out your parallel port which turns the relays on and off. You will also need some software to play the music. Ideally, you should find a program that will do both. Luckily, since a synchronized music and light show isn't anything new, people before us have already written the software. Even better, since the world is full of homebrew enthusiasts like us, there are some good freeware programs.

In my travels, I found that people use two different models for creating music/light shows. I'll call one model "scripted", and the other "interpreted".

The interpreted model

The interpreted model is easier to set up quickly, but the results don't necessarily look as good. In this model, the software listens to various properties of the music as it plays and interprets what channels on the relay board to activate. This is the same principal used by the visualizers on your favorite media player software. Think of this model as the plug-n-play solution. The same software will play the music and send data out the parallel port.

The results won't look horrible, but it really depends on the song. I used "This is Halloween" from the film "The Nightmare Before Christmas" in my example movie. It came out pretty well. Some other songs don't work as well. On some songs, the lights didn't really blink that often so the illusion of singing was lost. You may be able to mitigate this issue by configuring your software better.

The scripted model

In the scripted model, the task of determining what channels to activate is done by a human. You use a piece of software that will play the music to you while you tap on your keyboard when you want to activate a channel. The software will record your tapping. This can be time consuming since you will have to listen to a song multiple times to tap out the sequences for each of the 8 channels. You will use the same software to play back the music to your speakers and the data to the relay board. If you're good, you can get pretty decent results using this method.

The hybrid model

There is actually one more model. It's actually a mix of the two. It involves recording your own vocal track of a song. Then you use software to write a script by interpreting your vocal track. A vocal only track is used so that the software doesn't interpret any instruments in the music as voices. The illusion of the singing pumpkins is increased because the pumpkins will only flash to the vocal track. I read about this model at HalloweenForum.com

What did I do?

I decided to go with the interpreted model. I did this for a couple or reasons in no particular order: laziness, time constraints, it looked good enough to me, we could have a wider selection of songs more easily.

For software, I used Winamp combined with the DiscoLitez plugin. The plugin works like a visualizer, except it sends data out the parallel port as it interprets the music. On the website, there are a couple of different version of DiscoLitez. The Winamp plugin is called "DiscoLitez Standard". There is a Pro version that looks pretty cool, but I couldn't get it to work and didn't have time to debug.

I ran into a small problem with DiscoLitez at first. Every time I tried to use it, Winamp would crassh. It turns out that Windows XP has some security policy where software cannot talk to the parallel ports unless it has special permissions. I also had to use a program called PortTalk. PortTalk works by somehow giving the needed permissions to program that wouldn't otherwise have them. In my case, I had to give these permissions to Winamp. So, I launched Winamp through PortTalk. I made a batch file that contained the command line:
allowio "C:\Program Files\Winamp\winamp.exe" /a

This is a good guide for setting us DiscoLitez and Winamp.

Other software

I went with the Winamp/DiscoLitez setup mainly due to time constraints. It does the job, but does leave a bit to be desired. Here are some programs I saw while doing research. I may upgrade to one of these in the future.

Vixen - Very mature freeware program with many features and plugins. From what I saw, it uses the scripted model. Large community of enthusiastic users. I suggest you check out the wiki.

VSA - A $60 commercial application seen in other singing pumpkin rigs. They offer a demo version on their website for download. I did not test it myself. It appears that the software uses the interpreted model, and then lets you customize the script ... so I'd call it a hybrid model.

DiscoLitez Pro - Freeware. This is a standalone version of DiscoLitez. It appears to be completely interpreted model, but you have a lot more control over how the music is interpreted than with the Standard version.

Lightning - Freeware. Another interpreted model program very similar to DiscoLitez Pro.

Future Enhancements

Here are some future enhancements that I'd like to implement one day.

Figure out how to get the relay box to work with a USB parallel port. Newer laptops don't usually have parallel ports.

Improve illusion of singing.
<p>Split Outlets</p><p>https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yAd5fWAliZw</p>
It's been a while since you posted this. And hopefully, no one has harmed themselves by following your erroneous wiring instructions.<br> <br> Perhaps by now, you have learned that switches are always installed on the hot wire not on the neutral wire.<br> <br> Why? Because installing the switch on the hot wire results in electricity stopping at the switch whereas installing the switch on the neutral wire results in electricity going to the light then coming back to the switch where it stops. Either way will allow the light to work. The difference is what happens if something, like your body, were to come in contact with the hot wire when the light is switched off. If the switch is on the neutral wire, electricity will reach you and go through your body to ground. If the switch is on the hot wire, no electricity reaches the light so there is no danger of electrocution. Wiring the switch wrong is even more of a danger when dealing with something that is going to be exposed to the elements. UV rays or wild animals may damage insulation, water gets in places it shouldn't.<br> <br> On a less critical note, convention/codes in the US, calls for wire colors for 110 volt circuits to be assigned as follows:<br> <br> Green = Ground wire<br> White = Neutral wire<br> Black = Hot wire<br> <br> When more than one hot wire is used, the other hot wires may be Red, Blue or Yellow.<br> <br> But never, ever trust the wire color or, for that matter, the expertise of the person who installed the wire. Use a voltmeter to check whether a wire is carrying current before you do anything with it.<br> <br> So to all trying this project, be safe and verify that your wiring follows current electrical standards.
You can buy boxes that do that.. I have one that has 6 outlets in it and it has songs built in (I think mainly christmas) but u can plug an MP3 player into it and play whatever songs u want.. they're kind of expensive but I got mine at the thrift store for like 5 bucks! It's really neat now I wish I had seen this earlier and had some light up pumpkins! lol
I've seen commercial boxes for server hundred dollars, but that is an awesome thrift store find. It's not too late to set up the pumpkins for Halloween night. I got mine at Walmart a few years back. The lamps were built in. You may be able to find them again this year.
sooo since the ends are just simply extension cords, i could replace the pumpkins with simply lights or other effects/
<p>Yes and no. You could replace the pumpkins with any other eletrical device such as a&nbsp;string of Christmas lights, but you'll have to be careful not to exceed the wattage of the relay circuit board. I&nbsp;forget what the recommended wattage for the board is, but the light bulbs in each pumkin were only 5W. Even with all 8 pumkins turned on, that would only be 40W.</p>
well i don`t have the money to buy LOR (but if i did i would buy it in a heartbeat) i`m looking for a el cheapo way to power all of my lights but still have it look professional
i have about 10,000 xmas lights. how many of these do i need to power all those lights?
I can't really say. It more depends on the number of strings that you have and the wattage of each string. I don't think the circuit board that I used is able to power too many watts. It's been too long since I did the project to recall exactly.<br/><br/>If you're going to do a project that large, you're better off buying a commercial product. I've never bought from them, but <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.lightorama.com/">Light-O-Rama</a> looks like they have a nice selection of products. <br/><br/>My project was fun to build and show off for one night on Halloween. However, I really wouldn't feel safe to leave it plugged-in and unattended for an entire Christmas season. Good luck with your project.<br/>
For the lazy man's conversion to USB try a USB to DB25 Female Parallel Converter Adapter cable (like: <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=1699044&amp;CatId=471).">http://www.tigerdirect.com/applications/SearchTools/item-details.asp?EdpNo=1699044&amp;CatId=471).</a> If it is a true bi-directional plug, it should give you the port control to continue on.<br/>
i found a relay board for 17$<a rel="nofollow" href="http://robokitsworld.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&products_id=213">http://robokitsworld.com/index.php?main_page=product_info&amp;products_id=213</a><br/>
where did you get that song!
The song is titled &quot;This is Halloween&quot;. It's from the soundtrack to the movie &quot;The Nightmare Before Christmas&quot;. You can buy the soundtrack here <a rel="nofollow" href="http://tinyurl.com/yvdp6o">http://tinyurl.com/yvdp6o</a> .<br/>
what is the most watts it can run?... (because i want to build it...(IT IS COOOOOOL!!!)this is something like it (only more $$$) <a rel="nofollow" href="http://store.lightorama.com/ba16chpa.html">http://store.lightorama.com/ba16chpa.html</a><br/>
does it work on xmas lights
Yes, it will work with Christmas light. Technically, it will work on anything that runs on electricity. The box is simply routing current to the different outlets based on data coming from the parallel port. You could plug in a bunch of blenders if you wanted ... but the current drawn by the blenders are probably too much for the traces on the circuit board. If you do build one of these, you'll want to pay attention to the power drawn by whatever you plug in to it. The light bulbs in the pumpkins only drew 5W each.
Hey how do you use port talk. i clicked every file in every folder and it kept opening notepad and telling me what porttalk is. Please tell me how to use porttalk!!!.
You have to launch porttalk from the command line (DOS). This is the command that I used: <strong>allowio &quot;C:\Program Files\Winamp\winamp.exe&quot; /a</strong><br/><br/>As a shortcut, I made a batch file that would run this command line. I could run the batch directly from Windows (I didn't have to open a command prompt).<br/><br/>You can also read the readme.txt file that comes with porttalk, that has some examples of how to use the program.<br/>
How do I use porttalk?
You did a great job in explaining the step by step procedure for building this project. The explanation for connecting the relay board to the receptacles was a bit confusing. Green wire should only be used for ground never to carry current. As I understand it the green wires were connected to the "C" relay terminal, in this type of circuit the "HOT" black wire should be connected to "C" so that the hot conductor is interrupted by drop out of the relay. Also why use eight receptacles when four would be sufficient by removing the jumper between each outlet?
Thanks for the feedback. You're right about the green wire. It should NOT be used to carry current. I originally though that the green wire was exactly the same as the black and white wire. I didn't realize it, but I checked it turns out grounding wire is usually thinner than the hot and neutral wires. I don't know about wiring the HOT wire to C. When I was building the circuit, I read a couple different relay guides and consulted my dad who teaches college electronics. I'm fairly certain that my circuit is correct. Or at least, it works and didn't start any fires. As far as using eight vs four receptacles, you raise a good point. I didn't know about the jumper between the outlets. Also, I like having two plugs per channel. It allowed me to trigger two lamps on a single channel. If you notice in the movie, there are nine pumpkins, but only eight channels.
pretty frickin cool
If your computer has no parallel port - can you use the LPT printer parallel port or use a parallel to serial port cable? THANKS FOR THE INSIGHT!!!
A LPT port and parallel port are the same thing (<a rel="nofollow" href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LPT">wikipedia</a>). I'm not really sure about using a serial port, except I don't think I've ever seen a computer with a serial port and no parallel port. <br/><br/>I did do some research in using a <a rel="nofollow" href="http://www.google.com/search?q=usb+parallel+port">USB-parallel-port , which is a cable used to connect a non-USB printer to a computer's USB port. I was unable to get my cable to work with my rig, but I think I did see someone who was able to get it to work on another website.</a><br/>
thank you for the wiring information. I want to use a relay board with voice activated commands.
careful, wires may be live even when a switch is open, depending on where a switch is placed in a circuit. if the switch is off, and you touch point 2, you will be fine. but if you touch point 1, even though no currents flowing, you will probably get a shock. simple, but take care. the polarity of wiring in houses can get switched, or worse. check it twice! I've overlooked it before, and probably will again, just because i thought it was so simple. hot---1---switch---2---ground and Sweet instructable. it would be neat to apply this to the lighting in a home.
I always am impressed with the music light shows during the holidays. Thanks for making it easy for even me to understand!!! Great job
Thanks! I'm glad you enjoyed it. Let me know if you build your own.

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