At the end of the twinkling Blossoms of Light pathway, visitors arrive at a massive lighting display that reacts to interactive instruments and recorded music. Nearly 15,000 individually-programmed LEDs dance in an array of lights that fills the entire UMB Amphitheater, offering an experience that is as mesmerizing as it is unique.
For a behind-the-scenes look at how this display came to be, we talked to the founders of AudioPixel, the Boulder-based company that collaborated with the Gardens to develop the installation.
Tell us a little bit about AudioPixel.
AudioPixel primarily builds installations utilizing audio-reactive and interactive LEDs. We’ve built projects on our own, but we’ve also helped artists and groups build large-scale art installations, developed custom software used at nightclubs, and designed lighting for dozens of multi-day music festivals. We have also ventured into controlling pyrotechnics, fountains and robotics.
How did you decide on the design for the interactive light display?
We had a lot of ideas going into the project, but we always knew we wanted an array of LEDs large enough that we could run elaborate, 3D visuals. In the end, we found that the vertical strips of LEDs spaced about six feet apart capture just enough area for your mind’s eye to fill in a complex image without being too bright or overbearing.
What was the biggest challenge in this process?
The amphitheater itself posed many unique challenges: we had to avoid sprinkler systems, create stands for areas where we could not stake into the ground, and design a grid that factored in grassy slopes and other obstacles. Nearly three miles of wires are used in the installation, which pushed our known expectations of how far electric current and data could travel to the LEDs. Plus, it was no small feat to design a reliable, watertight, outdoor installation in the dead of winter that would be ready for hundreds or thousands of visitors to view each night.
What was your favorite part of developing the interactive light display?
The ability to expose this kind of art to a wider audience is a huge privilege. Most often, work of this nature is seen at exotic festivals or underground events that cater to a niche audience. The 38-day duration of this exhibit and its location at Denver Botanic Gardens make it accessible to the community and the general public. We’ve also loved watching the whole exhibit come together, and we can see the success of the project on visitors’ faces when they play with the instruments at the kiosk.
How did you get into the kind of work?
In the early 2000s, there weren’t many options for artists to program with light using existing software, so we just decided to do it ourselves. We studied “new media” at CU Boulder (ATLAS), RMCAD, and Emerson College in programs that encourage creativity and attempt to close the gap between engineering and the arts. More recently, demand has grown and the price of LEDs has dropped, which gives us more opportunities for large-scale projects.
What are some of the other major projects you’ve worked on?
We transformed a large, flatbed truck into an audio-reactive LED display that we’ve taken to various music festivals, including Burning Man, Arise, and Apogaea. We’ve worked with some of the biggest names in electronic music and, for the past eight years, we’ve collaborated on sound stages and art projects at Burning Man and local Maker-Faire DIY events.
Blossoms of Light is open every night 5:30-9 p.m. through Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017. Purchase tickets online or at the Bonfils-Stanton Visitor Center. Groups of 15 people or more can purchase discounted tickets by calling 720-865-3584.
AudioPixel’s core team members are Hepp Maccoy, Programmer & Software Architect; Aaron Wilson, Programmer & Hardware Specialist; Erin O’Brien, Chief of Operations; and Charley Honeycutt, Electrical Engineer. Visit their website for more details.