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Percussion In The Dark: Nothing A Couple Of LEDs Can’t Fix
Bringing together technology to help foster a new and creative concert experience
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The ensemble needed to be cued hundreds of times at 5-second intervals throughout the piece, but Yowell wanted to maintain the dark, solemn atmosphere while they played. Enter the LEDs. Sokol’s prototype proved to be what was needed for the performance to run smoothly.

The practicum class jury-rigged four female XLR connectors with 220-ohm resistors soldered to pin 1, the LED soldered to pin 2, and a solder joint connecting the resistor and LED in series. Since an audio signal is AC (alternating current), the polarity of the LED hookup doesn’t matter at all for this application. (Please contact Mike Sokol via e-mail .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with any comments or questions about this technology.)

Creating the LED cue light was half the battle.Getting the LEDs to work as an actual cueing system was the next step.

The ensemble director created an isolated audio track in the Logic multi-track session that played gong hits, which became the LED visual cue signal at 5-second intervals for the players.

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This “visual” cue track was internally mapped to the channel 5 output of the MOTU 828, which bypassed the Whirlwind attenuator by running directly into a Marantz MA-5 Esotec 30-watt power amp.

The Marantz amp output was then connected to a Whirlwind 1x6 Parallel Line Splitter via a male XLR “kludge” cable connecting the amplifier output to pins 1 and 2 of the XLR, and the cue signals were run to the percussionists’ cue LEDs via XLR cables coming from the Split-6.

The LEDs were gaff taped onto the players’ stands below their music so that they had view of the LED cue light, but the space to move freely around their stations.

Sokol has also designed and built a “stereo” version of this same LED cue system that could be driven by two audio channels with different color LEDs over a common XLR cable. 

He notes that this LED assembly can be driven directly by a 30-watt power amp, or any decent headphone amp. A headphone amp might only be able to drive a single LED, but a 30-watt power amp is capable of driving dozens of these LED assemblies in parallel.

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This system would allow the director or sound tech to patch two audio channels into the same LED cue box, with, for example, one color LED for the snare channel and the other for the kick channel.

That way, if desired, other musicians in sonically-challenged performance spaces could be visually synchronized to a live drummer or recorded click track. However, for Pika-Don the director thought that a single red LED would be sufficient, which did indeed prove to be the case. Simple is beautiful.

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